The Influence of a Good Mentor
- July 16, 2012
- Jim Mathis
When I was in college in the 1960s, I noticed a recurring ad in the back of photography magazines I read. It told about a place having the capacity for “push-processing” Ektachrome slide film to the speed of 1600, unheard of at that time. This was very important because Ektachrome had a normally slow film speed of 160, and the style of the day was toward more low-light photography.
The address seemed even more intriguing. It was a house in Prairie Village, Kansas. I envisioned a “little house on the prairie,” similar to a popular TV show of that time. The name of the photographic laboratory was "Elgin Smith's Studio 35." I later learned Elgin Smith was known worldwide as "that guy in Kansas who knew all about Ektachrome."
When I moved to Kansas City in 1971, I sought out Mr. Smith in nearby Prairie Village. We soon became good friends and when I opened my own photo-processing lab in 1973, Elgin Smith became my mentor. He and his wife, Dorothy, also sent a lot of business our way, giving the company a huge kick-start.
Whenever I mentioned the name "Elgin Smith" to anyone in the photography industry, I always received the same response: "What a great guy!" or, "Elgin is the nicest person you would ever want to meet."
He had another very important characteristic: unyielding pursuit of excellence. Everything he did was of the highest quality. Elgin Smith would accept no less.
Over the years I realized those were qualities I have strived for as well. I am always pleased when I hear myself described as a "nice guy." I like people and try hard to be likable. But I also pursue excellence in everything I do, whether it is photography, music, writing, or relationships.
Being a person of faith, it is very meaningful for me to know these two qualities get a lot of attention in the Bible. For instance, among the basic values of Christianity are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Another passage tells Jesus’ followers, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
The Bible also underscores the importance of working with excellence. It tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). To me that means doing everything to the best of our ability, as if God were looking over our shoulder, assessing our effort and the quality of our work.
My mentor Elgin Smith has passed away, but his influence on my life remains, especially his examples in seeking to be a good, friendly person and in performing with excellence. To this day, I often think, “What would Elgin Smith do?”
Jim Mathis is the owner of a photography studio in Overland Park, Kansas, specializing in executive, commercial and theatrical portraits, and operates a school of photography. Jim is the author of High Performance Cameras for Ordinary People, a book on digital photography. He formerly was a coffee shop manager and executive director of CBMC in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.
1. Do you have a mentor, or someone that had made a profound impression on your professional life? If so, describe that individual and the impact that he or she made on you.
2. Who is the nicest person you ever met? Why do you have that opinion, and would you like to be described in similar terms? Why or why not?
3. What about pursuing excellence in your work – continually striving to achieve the highest quality in whatever you do? Is that something that is important to you, or is it even realistic in your circumstances? Explain your answer.
4. Mr. Mathis cites the Bible verse that talks about “working for the Lord, not for people.” What do you think that means? Is it a practical goal in today’s highly complex, competitive business environment? Why or why not?
If you would like to look at or discuss other portions of the Bible that relate to this topic, consider the following brief sampling of passages:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:31-32; Colossians 3:12-14; Proverbs 21:5, 22:29, 27:18