When I cofounded a computer-networking consulting company five years ago, I was fortunate to have had assistance from other entrepreneurs. They are my "mentors," if you will, although I'm not sure they know they fill the such a role for me.

Brad Feld, a venture capitalist and member of the advisory board for my company, Net Daemons Associates Inc., taught me to turn seemingly insurmountable problems on their heels, viewing them from perspectives from which solutions could emerge. Another advisory board member, Jeff Osborn, who has launched many companies, advised me to sell not only computer services to customers, but also a "relationship" that will deepen through the years.

And Petie Hilsinger, who founded a nonprofit organization in Cambridge, Mass., to provide services for entrepreneurs, offered this lesson: Walk away with something, but always leave something in return. As a result of her advice, I'm more apt to give feedback freely.

Mentors Transcend Careers

But for all of these happy career-related associations, I believe that mentors transcend careers. Relationships with individuals who offer support and help come in many forms, at various stages of life. If one is fortunate -- asI was -- mentors are there for you at the turning points, telling you to tie your shoes, find your soul, push the envelope, test the world.

Let me explain. When I was a young child, my family moved around a lot because my father was in the Marine Corps, serving two stints in theVietnam War, and then joined academia as a professor. Shuttled like a preadolescent refugee from Mississippi to Pennsylvania to California, I quickly learned that because my surroundings were shifting so dramatically, my success in life would require determination, exploration, self-reliance, and a strong will. I also learned to rely on people who formed an unchanging network of support: namely, my mother and her mother.

I used what I learned from my mother and grandmother as a foundation. In those years, I learned how to live my life by watching them live their lives. My mother and my grandmother made a conscious effort to nurture and teach me. They worked to build a strong belief system in me. These women, my first mentors, taught me that I could do what I wanted to do if I worked at it. They gave me the confidence I needed to go out and put my heart and soul into reaching my goals, by helping me learn that I had a heart and soul to give.

My mother's father, also an important early influence, taught me one of the simplest and most important lessons: Laughter is the best medicine. Like many survivors of the Great Depression, he knew how to handle life's ups and downs. He approached living with wisdom, never forgetting to laugh when life called for laughter, even if he was laughing at himself.