My Mentern.

December 5, 2020

My Mentern.

May 29, 2023

I am writing this on Thanksgiving day. Thinking about gratitude and some of the people in my life. I wanted to share a particularly unexpected friendship I have developed over the last 7 years. Life has a curious origami to it. Ways of folding in on itself, finding unexpected edges and if you are lucky revealing an unprecedented shape.

In this story, the shape was a unicorn.

I met Zach at the beach. We had both been surfing. We started talking.

Pretty soon, we had agreed it would be fun to work together. Zach became an intern at my company in 2014. He was in transition on his way to Stanford and it was fun to have his energy in our office. That would have been it. Summer over. Job done. But we also made friends.

It was a friendship based on curiosity and shared passions. Zach was a musician and had been a professional since his early teens. I was blown away by his intelligence, his passionate interest in sustainability and social enterprise was fuel for my own interests. We talked. A lot. I learned. A lot. I wanted to be his mentor and share sage wisdom but kept on getting lost in all the things he knew about, the idea adventures he was taking. The wisdom sharing never quite happened.

But it was fun.

Our second big project together changed everything. The details of it are too involved but we ended up building the world’s first 3D-printed bio-materials surfboard. My ‘intern’ led the project. Entirely. He managed to make an award-winning movie at the same time as successfully building the surfboard. On a comparatively tiny budget. I was stunned. He taught me a million things about leadership and determination. It was humbling. It was exciting. It was so cool.

I saw my own leadership opportunity as a guide and a resource. It changed my understanding of what was possible to achieve at work.

During that time I’d made friends with Zach’s parents and the rest of his family. We all enjoyed coming together, sharing ideas and getting creative together. Over the years they became a second Bay Area family for my family. I now count them among my closest friends. Such an unexpected turn.

My most recent work with Zach has been in the making and sharing of art. Again, I am in a position where I am the student. I have learned so much. I was inspired by Zach’s efforts as a musician, his intentions as an artist and his intelligence about his art in the world. He has taught me about the processes and disciplines of creation.

Menternship for me has been all about curiosity, about learning, about the unexpected joys of friendship. Early in our friendship I had to accept that learning and growth in my life would come from anywhere if I allowed it. My teachers could be decades younger than me, my mentors half my age.

It raises a question for all of us. Who in our lives might we be overlooking because they are too young or too old?

Personally, how might you let go of age as a barrier and embrace it as a new type of wealth for you to explore in your life?

Reach out to someone. Today. Start the exploration.

Who knows where it might lead? You may find a unicorn too.


Jeff Hamaoui is one of the cofounders of MEA and the Chief Education & Innovation Officer.

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