"The first mentor leads to more mentors."
Thomas “Tom” Matt
Who comes to mind when you think of mentor? An experienced professional or professor? Radio show host usually doesn't come to mind. But, Tom is just that. His story leading to mentorship is an interesting one...a path many have been down, but not all lead to mentorship. Here is his story.
“Welcome to Boomers Rock Radio. This is Tom Matt, your host.” Tom is an award winning radio show host and author. He has a loving wife, two lovely daughters and two grandchildren. They are a close family and Tom is living the life he always dreamed about.
Tom’s success in life is recent. Tom was a drug and alcohol abuser from the time he was 18 until he was 38. He didn’t get into trouble, but he partied a lot. He dropped out of college, got married and had a baby when he was young. He and his first wife used meth amphetamines, drank and partied. So much so, that his wife ended up in prison. Tom was given full custody of his young daughter which meant he was a single parent, raising a daughter as a recreational drug and alcohol user. This insight was a wake up call for Tom. He knew he needed to change his ways, so he moved closer to family and stopped the drugs, but continued to drink. He was able to work and earn a decent living, but he wasn’t living the life he wanted to live and he wanted to be the best parent he could be. So, at 38 years of age, Tom started psychotherapy and quit drinking. He never looked back at drugs and alcohol and started his road to self improvement. He left work as a tradesman and took a job for less money working at Michigan State University. It wasn’t easy giving up the perks and the pay he was used to, but he realized it was a good opportunity to get his education. At 40 years of age, Tom set out to get his bachelor’s degree.
It was a slow, incremental process for Tom. Initially, his application to enroll at the college was declined. This could have been the end of the story, but instead, in stepped his first mentor, Roy Simon. Tom went to see Roy, the director of the communications department, where he hoped to major. Roy sat Tom down, asked him his story, and told Tom he needed to go in person to the administration and tell them his story. Tom was reluctant, but took Roy’s advice. It worked. Tom’s application was accepted and he was a student once again. Without Roy’s advice, Tom wouldn’t have thought to tell his story to admissions. His second chance almost didn’t happen.
One class at a time, and with insecurity and difficulty, Tom completed his bachelor’s degree in 6 years. In this time, he remarried and blended the family of his wife and daughter with his daughter and himself. He was insecure, and it was difficult for him because he was older than the other students and he was afraid. He also had family commitments and work outside of school. But, Roy was always in the shadows reassuring Tom. He made suggestions about classes to take, introduced Tom to influential individuals who opened doors for Tom and helped him finish his undergrad work in 2006 at the age of 46.
A deep breath and some relaxation might have been in store for someone else, but Tom was on an educational high. He didn’t want to stop. He wanted to attend graduate school. Tom went to Roy again. Roy asked Tom if he really wanted to do it. He assured Tom it was going to be harder than undergrad. He couldn’t take one class at a time and must finish the program in 5 years. Tom said he was sure he could. With Roy’s guidance, he was accepted into the graduate program and Roy kept a close eye on Tom. He struggled, Roy was the stable person behind the scenes as Tom’s rock, once again offering encouragement. He told Tom “You are going to finish this.” He inspired Tom to stay motivated when things got tough, when things were difficult, and when Tom thought he couldn’t move forward. Tom ended up finishing in 3 years and graduated in 2009 at the most perfect time Tom could have hoped for. He graduated the same weekend his oldest daughter graduated from the same school with her bachelor’s degree. It was a thrill for him. He and his daughter made it. He took a picture of him with his daughter, showed it to Roy and Roy cried. As Tom told me this story he also cried. He reflected on his journey and said he became a success because of Roy. Roy changed Tom’s life and they remain good friends.
Once graduate school finished, Tom knew he wanted to give back. In midlife, Tom’s mentors helped him to turn his life around, and to accomplish all the things that he once thought were not attainable. He knows the importance of mentorship. His life is successful, his family is loving and supportive, and his life is full of meaning. He gives back to others the same way his mentors have given him the gift of meaning and value. His radio show promotes life values aimed at baby boomers. He gives back and motivates others on a large scale and actively works to provide a good example for his children and grandchildren.
Tom mentored his eldest daughter as he went through the process of finding love and obtaining his undergrad and graduate degree. She saw how difficult the process was for him, but she also saw how working hard can help you achieve your goals. Tom married Sandy, mother to her daughter Lauren, and they blended their two families. Tom’s older daughter followed Tom’s guidance and graduated from the same college he attended, and now has a stable marriage with two children. They are a close family. His younger daughter also followed Tom’s guidance and is attending Michigan State. Tom openly mentored them as he pursued his goals and helped them with theirs, serving as a guide for them. He continues to guide them to find their passion for life. Their lives could have been very different if Tom didn’t change himself with the help of his mentors. Their role model could have been someone who used drugs and alcohol. Someone who dreamed big, but didn’t put in the hard work needed to achieve dreams. Tom believes in mentorship and shares his story openly so others will see it is never too late to change your life.
Tom eagerly mentors young people starting out in the world. A young student at Michigan State applying to medical school asked Tom for help with her medical school application letter. Tom helped her with the letter and it turned out so well, her roommate asked if Tom would help with hers as well. This makes him feel valued and a bigger, more connected part of the world. Tom embodies the spirit of mentorship and becomes animated when he talks about mentoring and giving back to others. It is a high for him that he once tried to get with the use of drugs and alcohol. He is an example of a person who has achieved a high in his late midlife from mentoring. His relationships are strong and he is connected with the world. His enthusiasm is palpable. Tom gets more now from giving than he ever could have imagined. In midlife, he found faith in himself for the first time. This gift given to him by his mentors has helped him to have the enthusiasm to mentor others to find their own inner potential.