The Focus: Shaping Who We’re Becoming

Mentors provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling. Who comes to mind when you hear the word?

For me, when I think about being an editor, I’m fortunate my mentors have been plentiful. I learned fundamentals of editing and audience from Major Hall, my first boss at Yacht Racing/Cruising. Among other things, he taught me to think of conjunctions as signposts and would often look up from reading my draft article and ask, “What would a Midwest dinghy sailor think when he reads that?”

Our art director, Mark Smith, taught me to be bold in imagining how to present a story, even if you have to draw the illustration yourself. Although I never became a pen-and-ink artist like Mark, he taught me to think visually and sketch thumbnail layouts, something I still do to pass along my ideas. Web designers get a chuckle out of wireframe page layouts I sketch for them, but they can see what I’m thinking.

Fifteen years later at Cruising World, Bernadette Bernon taught me to create big themes or concepts for an issue, not as the exception but as the rule. With her ongoing work at BoatUS magazine, you can see she is still providing a master class in the subject.

In the late ‘90s, both Bernadette and I received a bracing, often profane refresher in use of language from our editorial director, Gil Rogin, former Sports Illustrated chief editor. Gil was not shy about lavishing red ink on our products, and he particularly detested the use of words people would never say in a conversation, like “garner” or “opt.” Among many rules he laid down, one that stuck for me is to never write in a way that draws attention to your writing. Keep the focus on what you’re communicating.

The Jeanneau team of the ’90s and ’00s celebrates another new-boat launch (left to right): Erik Stromberg, Paul Fenn, Jean-Paul Chapeleau, Jean-François de Prémorel, Eric Laurent, Bruno Allaire.

The extraordinary impact of our mentors came back to me last fall as I interviewed Erik Stromberg about Jean-François de Prémorel, who died last summer. A creative force within Jeanneau, Beneteau, Lagoon, and Prestige Yachts product lines since the ‘80s, Jean-François plucked Erik out of customer service at the Jeanneau America office, and 15 years later, Erik is in a position no American has ever held. He’s in charge of not one, but two product lines within Groupe Beneteau—Jeanneau and Prestige—and he’s just getting started. (Here’s my Trade Only Today column on the pair: “Leadership from Generation to Generation.”) 

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, I’d like to thank all my mentors of recent months, especially my mentor and buddy coaches, my sailing teammates, and my fellow non-profit volunteers. They have all helped me to keep perspective on the events of the year and to notice what a difference it makes to be around people with a positive, empathetic outlook and a willingness to say what is on their mind.

Even more, I’d like to thank my closest mentors—my wife Rachel and our nuclear family of Isabel, Sebastian, Zephyr, Olivia, and Sophie—the steadfast cohort members with whom I’ve eaten almost every meal and shared in most of 2020’s ups and downs. We’ve had our moments, but whenever I’ve needed to be lifted up or to be asked a pointed question, I’ve been able to count on them.

Join me in a toast to all of the mentors who have been there for us—and to those who will help us forward in the new year. They remind us to ask good questions, make our choices, and be there for each other whatever the result.

Speaking of choices, we should choose our mentors deliberately; it’s in their presence we discover who we are becoming. 

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