Career Advice from a Supreme Court Justice and a Broadway Musical

I send daily life and career success quotes to my subscribers.  If you’re not receiving them, just go to and enter your name and email in the box on the top right side of the site.  On Saturday, I sent this career success quote…

“None of us has gotten where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  We got here because somebody bent down and helped us.” 

This career advice quote is from one of my personal heroes, Thurgood Marshall the first black US Supreme Court Justice and a great civil rights advocate.

Saturday evening Cathy and I saw a touring company perform Billie Elliot at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.  We had seen it in New York a couple of years ago and really liked it.  We were really looking forward to seeing it again and this performance did not disappoint. In fact, it was almost as good as the Broadway production.

Billie Elliot is the story of a young boy – the son of a coal miner in northern England – who has dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.  It is set in 1984, a difficult time for coal miners in England.  The miners were on strike for better wages.  I identify with coal miners.  They are tough hardworking people.  John Bilanich my grandfather, was a coal miner in Central Pennsylvania.  He never went to school.  He went to work in the mines when he was eight years old.  I learned a lot about life from listening to his stories.

Young Billie is assisted in his quest to become a ballet dancer by Mrs. Wilkinson, a former dancer who teaches ballet classes for local kids at a school gymnasium for 50 pence a lesson.  She recognizes Billie’s natural talent and arranges an audition for him at the Royal Ballet Academy. 

The play has a bittersweet ending.  On the day Billie gets accepted to the Royal Ballet Academy, the miners concede and go back to work for reduced wages.  While Billie’s story is fiction, the subplot of the miners’ strike is true.  Maggie Thatcher, then the British Prime Minister, broke their union. 

But still it’s an optimistic play.  It shows how one young person dares to follow his dream, against some pretty steep odds.  It also reinforces the Thurgood Marshall career success quote at the beginning of this post.  “None of us has gotten where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  We got here because somebody bent down and helped us.”  Mrs. Wilkinson never realized her dreams of being a great dancer, but she was willing to bend down and help young Billie.  

Tweet 49 in my career success book, Success Tweets says, “Surround yourself with positive people.  Hold them close.  They will give you energy and help you create the success you want and deserve.”  People like Mrs. Wilkinson are positive people.  They are willing to bend down and help others create the life and career success they want and deserve.

Mrs. Wilkinson mentored young Billie.  And, mentors like Mrs. Wilkinson are positive people by definition.  They are willing to spend their time and share their knowledge and wisdom to help other people create the life and career success they want and deserve.

Ernest Buckman was an early mentor of mine.  I used to caddy for him.  He encouraged my dreams of going to college.  He wrote a letter of recommendation that resulted in me receiving a caddy scholoarship.  I wasn’t a lot of money, but it certainly helped with my tuition and expenses at Penn State.  Mr. Buckman bent down to help me.  I repay his kindness by contrinbuting to the caddy shcolarship fund every year.

I have been fortunate to have had several other mentors in my life and career.  All of them shared several characteristics.  They all…

  • Were willing to share their wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise.
  • Had a positive outlook on life.  They helped me through tough times and showed me how to find the opportunity in the difficulties I was facing.
  • Were genuinely concerned about me and my success.  In addition to being knowledgeable, they were empathic.
  • Really knew what they were doing.  I respected them for their knowledge and skills.
  •  Kept growing themselves.  All of my mentors were curious and inquisitive.  Sometimes the roles were reversed.  They asked what I was reading, and then read the books themselves – so they could learn and we could discuss the ideas.
  • Gave me direct, constructive feedback.  They held me to high standards.  They congratulated me when I met their expectations.  They corrected me when I failed to do so – but in a manner where I learned what not to do the next time.
  • Were respected by their colleagues.  People who are highly regarded in their field or company make the best mentors.
  • Sought out and valued the opinions of others.  My best mentor always told me to listen most carefully to the people with whom I disagreed – in that way I might learn something.  And, he was right.

As the old saying goes, a mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.

I’ve created an acronym to define what it takes to become a good mentor.  Just like Mrs. Wilkinson, a good mentor…

M    Motivates you to accomplish more than you think you can.

E     Expects the best of you.

N    Never gives up on you or lets you give up on yourself.

T    Tells you the truth, even when it hurts.

O    Occasionally kicks your butt.

R   Really cares about you and your success.

Look for people with these qualities when you are searching for a mentor.  Mrs. Wilkinson had them.  That’s why she was so helpful to young Billie.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  As Thurgood Marshall says, “None of us has gotten where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  We got here because somebody bent down and helped us.”  Mentors are the people who bend down to help you create the life and career success you want and deserve.  Follow the career advice in Tweet 51 in Success Tweets.  “Find a mentor.  Mentors are positive people who will help you find the lessons in your experiences and use them to move forward.”  You can enter into a formal mentoring relationship.  Or you can just observe people you admire.  They can mentor you without even realizing that they are doing so.  Regardless of how you go about it, find your own Mrs. Wilkinson.  Hold him or her close.  Pay attention to thelife and career success lessons they share with you.  When the time comes, mentor people who look to you to bend down and help them on the road to life and career success.

That’s my career advice based on the Thurgood Marshall quote and the career success lessons I saw in Billie Elliot.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy. You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes when you download Success Tweets Explained.

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