A saying goes “A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future and believe it can be obtained.” Indeed, having a good mentor can change our life. Today, Thane Marcus Ringler talks with Brian Larrabee about their mentorship program at Good City Mentors. Good City Mentors is a non-profit organization which partners inspiring professionals and creative brands with local high schools, providing school-day mentorship that focuses on personal leadership development, college and career readiness, and service to the community. In this episode, Thane and Brian dive into the power of mentorship, the importance of relationships, how to improve your relational capacity, and the importance of failure and experiences in the journey of life.
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Brian Larrabee: Just Show Up: Why Mentorship Is Easier Than It Seems
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That gets us to an interview with none other than Brian Larrabee. Who is Brian? Brian Larrabee leads Good City Mentors and is considered a leader in building strategic community partnerships for social good. In 2014, after meeting students from a continuation high school in South Los Angeles, he brought in 35 inspiring friends and began what is now Good City Mentors. Good City Mentors has over 300 mentors and has seen graduation rates triple since its inception. Good City Mentors was awarded as one of LA’s top emerging nonprofits for 2018 and is recognized as a leader in high school-based mentoring. Brian attended Southern New Hampshire University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and was the Business Student of the Year. He was the school’s first-ever NCAA Academic All-American and signed a professional basketball contract to play in Porto, Portugal. Brian resides in Mar Vista, California with his wife and baby boy, Camden.
In this episode, we dive into the power of mentorship, the importance of relationships, how to improve your relational capacity, the importance of failure in life and experiences in the journey of life. We’ll talk about the hero’s journey and how that’s played out even in our own lives and much more. This is an engaging story and engaging conversation because Brian is real, honest, vulnerable and opens up a lot of the most pivotal moments of his life that have shaped who he is and formed the work he’s doing with Good City Mentors. I’ve been blessed to be able to be a part of Good City Mentors and I’ve been blown away by the impact we’ve been able to have on high school students’ lives. It floored me.
I didn’t expect this to play as big of a role in others’ lives and even the impact that has on my own life has humbled me in a lot of ways. I knew I had to get Brian on the show to share more about his story and the work that he’s doing. If you want to find out more about Good City Mentors, definitely check out his website, GoodCityMentors.org. Check out what they’re doing. It’s worth a look. It’s important, impactful work. I know you’re going to enjoy this conversation. I’m going to be quiet and let you get on with the interview. Please enjoy this conversation with Brian Larrabee.
Brian Larrabee, welcome to The Up and Comers Show.
Thanks for having me, Thane.
It’s going to be a fun time. It’s been neat to see how God connected our paths and getting to know you have been a joy. When you meet someone in life and they are both a kindred spirit and a kindred soul, have similar experiences in a lot of ways, you connect and it’s been fun to connect. How do you define or what is a mentor? How do you define what a mentor is?
Easy, consistent connection.
The beauty in that response is it shows a level of mastery. The only way that you get to that simplified and refined level of an answer and definition is a measure of mastery. Break that down for me. How does that play out in life, the consistent connection?
I can tell you a little bit about my story. If I look back on my life, what I’ve always wanted most, what I’ve always desired and what I’ve always craved most was to go to someone and spend time with that person and that person to see me for who I was. Also, to encourage me for what it is that I want to be. That’s what I feel is something that not just me, but I feel everyone wants in their life.
There’s a great quote from Carl Rogers. He said, “What is most personal is most universal.” The places that we are most personally tied to are maybe our greatest need or greatest strength. It’s usually the most universal and I hit on something there. Who was your first mentor? When did you first get a taste of this in your life?Mentorship is simply consistent connection. Click To Tweet
Doug Kilmer, he was my high school basketball coach. I was a freshman. I was playing up on varsity in basketball. I had about half a year where I started going down the wrong path, the path that I don’t feel was mine. I didn’t even know I was going down that path. Sometimes I didn’t know while it’s happening and wanting to be liked. He took me aside and brought me into his office and he says, “If you want this, you can be a good basketball player. Not just be a basketball player, but you could receive a full college scholarship playing basketball, where your parents don’t have to pay. Not only do I see that in you, but I’m also going to help you get there.” That was incredible because I had heard that from people in the past, but I never had anyone say, “I’m going to walk with you. I’m going to journey with you on that path and we’re going to do it together.”
Words are cheap. It’s always the actions that make the difference. I feel that as kids, we don’t even know what that looks like until someone else shows us. What’s important about mentorship? What role does mentorship have in development as a person?
Not because it’s a cliché or you see a place, but I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen it with what we do with Good City Mentors and working with youth all over Los Angeles. “In life, relationships are everything,” we say this to the students all the time when the students we work with say, “I’m good by myself. I don’t need anybody.” A lot of that comes from hurt. We hurt people. As human beings, we hurt one another but also we love one another. When someone wants to punish someone, what do we do? They say we isolate them and it’s what we do in prison. If someone did something that was horrible, what do you do to punish that person? You throw them in isolation. As human beings, when we’ve been hurt, we put ourselves in isolation. The best way to think of mentorship also is mentorship is a relationship. It’s something we crave. The meaningful positive relationships that I have in my life or friendships that I have in life, that’s also a mentorship relationship.
We put titles and put things in boxes, but at the end of the day, it can look like a lot of different things. At its core, it’s relationships. It’s fascinating too on the isolation, that’s an important thing to note. What do you think keeps people from having a mentor or what stands in the way from that playing out in people’s lives?
This is what we do in the training for our mentors. If you know how to build a meaningful relationship, you know how to mentor. I like to frame mentorship as more of a relationship. When people think of mentorship, “How do I get in touch with that guy that’s running that business? If I want to do that, I have to reach that guy.” In a lot of ways, we need to look around us and who are the people around us that we want to build meaningful connections and relationships with. We may think that that guy or getting that job is going to give us what we want but in reality, what we want, and I know that in my life over and over again, what I want is a caring person. A positive and meaningful relationship with someone that will see me for who I am, will believe in me and will help me get to where I want to go.
Being known and being empowered, those are the two fundamental longings that fulfill. Let’s talk about your journey in mentorship. It started with the high school coach empowering you as a player, believing in you, then coming alongside you. What ways did mentorship develop or how did it continue to develop you in your journey? Who were other key mentors in your life?
We frame mentorship as a consistent connection. We tend to think that that might be forever and a lot of times it’s not, as we know. The wedding ring on my finger, this is forever. It has 2016 to forever. I know that my wife and I, that is the best mentorship relationship. A lot of times, mentors might be in our life for just a moment. They have to be in your life for more than one time. Like a motivational speech that you hear, they’re in our life maybe for a few months or a few years and then as you evolve, a lot of times our mentors are going to evolve. When I graduated high school, the high school coach, Doug Kilmer, I stayed in contact with him. We didn’t have as much of a meaningful personal relationship. I went off to college. In college, who are the people around me? There was my college basketball coach, it was teachers in college, it was local business people in the Manchester, New Hampshire community. They became my mentors in a lot of ways. Mentorship evolves as we evolve in time and space.
What would you say if you could bring that evolution full circle now? In college, it was the coaches and the team around you. After college is when it gets a little bit grayer. Before college, it’s always the people that are naturally in our lives, but then it gets into post-college, what was that for you then after college? Who were those figures of those relationships for you?
You can identify being a professional golfer is, when I was done playing professional basketball, I had 8 to 10 years where I was challenged trying to find who I was. My identity was always in basketball. In a lot of ways, sometimes I look for those meaningful relationships that weren’t a positive mentorship. I would look for who I was and external things or maybe even external people. Once I was done playing basketball, I went into the business world. In a lot of ways, I isolated myself. I didn’t necessarily have a mentor or a positive relationship because my focus was to be successful in the business world. I have to feed whatever that lacks identity that I was feeling at that moment with these external things. There might also be a time where you lack meaningful relationships and mentorship and that’s okay. Those eight years were an unbelievable learning experience, but it was tough.
What brought you out of those eight years of isolation? How did you become aware of that and shift out of that back into those relationships that do support?
I got out of basketball and I was an achiever. I started with another guy who started a medical sales company. I did well because I used a lot of the skills that I had to achieve in basketball to also achieve in sales. I was the youngest person in the history of this company to be offered a full-time position. It was more money. I was probably at the time 27 years old. There’s more money than I’ve ever seen my entire life. I called my parents and I told them, “Mom, Dad, I’m buying you a house on the ocean or the lake, whatever you want. I’ve made it.” I went to New York, met with the company and I said, “Yes, I’m doing it.”
I was living at the time at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I came back home and something inside of me was like, “This is not your life.” It wasn’t a person, a mentor, a relationship. It was something inside me that said, “This not for you.” You see the path where this is going and this is not a good path to go down with where I was in my life. I remember calling Alex Marsden and praying that he didn’t answer, and he didn’t answer. I left him a message and I said, “Alex, I can’t take this job.” Not only was I afraid to tell him, but I also jumped on a cruise with a friend that was going with his wife. It was me, him and his fiancé. We went on a cruise, I said, “I’ve got to get out of town so this guy can’t call me.” I had so many messages. I went out of town for two weeks. I come back and everyone’s like, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” I was afraid to tell them and let them down. I knew that there was something more for my life.
When you’re sharing this, it made me think about The Hero’s Journey. Are you familiar with that? This makes a lot of sense. This is universal. In our younger years, we need to have someone come alongside us and mentor us, empower us, and help us along the way. There comes a season in life when we have to go out on our own. We have to make that voyage and learn through the success and most likely the failures and gain those experiences and then return back to the full in the sense of relationships and come with life experience that forms a foundation. Do you see that in the path of development?
You bringing that up in a lot of ways, maybe even helping me heal those eight years because looking back, I needed that time. I needed to learn who I was. I needed to have those failures, but probably didn’t need to have all those failures. I 100% agree with you.
It’s cool to have opportunities to reflect because I’m the same way. From a human standpoint, I wish that didn’t happen. From a God standpoint, I’m grateful for all of them and I don’t want any of them back. Without all of those, if one of those wouldn’t have been a part of it, I would be a different person. It all comes full circle that here we are sitting at this table with these mics. It’s a beautiful thing. Let’s return back to that story.
I should have never told my parents. My parents are still mad at me. They don’t have that ocean house or lake house.
Note to self, do not make promises. Two weeks go by, you return. You’re committed to not taking this. What’s next? What do you do?
I had no idea. At the time, I went back to what I knew. I started putting fillers out to basketball coaches and to be a college basketball coach. I started talking to people and then what happened was incredible, I reached out to a couple of schools, the one guy that responded to me was Brad Stevens, who is the head coach of the Boston Celtics. He was a head coach of Butler at the time. Many people didn’t respond to me. He responded to me and he was cool. He was like, “I want to let you know, we don’t have any job openings, but I want to say we love your stuff.” He’s my favorite coach in the entire NBA with that small little act of kindness. I went for about a year of trying to figure it out.
I gave the best man speech at my best friend’s wedding in Baltimore, Maryland and there was an actress in the audience. At the time, I’ve given four speeches in two years of my friends, best man speeches. I was polished at that time and she came up to me and she goes, “You’re great.” I’m like, “Thank you.” She’s like, “You should be an actor.” I was like, “That is dumb.” I grew up in Upstate New York. You don’t know one person that’s ever been an extra on anything ever. I’m like, “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” She goes, “I know this casting director in Miami. Her name is Lori Wyman. She’s casting Burn Notice. You should go see her. Get in front of the camera.”
The competitiveness and the achiever in me was like, “I’m going to be an actor. That sounds cool. Look at those people, maybe that’s who I am.” I went down and met Lori Wyman. I got in front of the camera for the first time. I’d never been more scared in my life. I’m sweating out of my armpits. I couldn’t remember one line that she said. Afterward, I was like, “That was a complete failure.” Lori took me aside and she goes, “We’re going to get you on a soap opera.” I’m like, “I can’t even remember one line. How are you going to get me on a soap opera? That sounds awesome.” That’s how I got into acting. It wasn’t because I felt a passion for it. It was because I was afraid of it and I was like, “I can’t fail at this. I have to do it.”
Talk to me about acting. How many years were you an actor? What are the big takeaways from that season? It is an extremely difficult thing to do and it takes a lot of skill and development. I’ve learned that too from having a toe in the industry and seeing it’s like, “This is not easy.” Talk to me about those years. What was that journey like for you and what did it teach you?
In my opinion, acting is the absolute hardest thing you could ever do as a human being. It’s the most difficult. It’s the most looking inside of you because there’s so much stuff. When I was in medical sales for all those years, I could go to a hospital and present in front of doctors and I could give them the inspiration. I could give them a pep talk. I could get them pumped up. I knew more about my product than they did. I could give an hour and then go out of there and leave.
With acting, it’s much more internal than it is external. You have to dig deep because you can’t hide anything in front of the camera. I was sweating that first time because I didn’t know who I was on the outside. I knew that the camera was capturing that and I felt insecure. What other profession do you do where you get rejected over and over again for the hopes of one person saying, “We like you.” That is dumb, why would anyone ever do that? There are people that it is their art, it is their craft, and it is inside of them. That’s not me. I did it because I needed to conquer it. On the other side of it, I see why I was in that world because a lot of our mentors, our actors, are in that world and I have so much respect for what they do and the craft that they put themselves through. It’s incredible.
How many years did you pursue acting?In life, relationships are everything. If you know how to build a meaningful relationship, you know how to mentor. Click To Tweet
I did it 2009 to 2012 then I took a long-retired break. For 3.5 years, I never got comfortable in front of the camera. It got easier for sure. The incredible thing is, looking back on it, I had success doing it. I never knew it at the time. People would look back and be like, “You’ve done a lot of stuff.” I did get on a soap opera. I did do a bunch of national commercials. Before I retired, I was gifted and that’s why I say this because I didn’t earn those national commercials. I was gifted those national commercials by God. He knew that in my heart, I was going to start my first nonprofit and I was going to need to self-fund that and I did for about four years. It was only from those five national commercials in a matter of 4 or 5 months.
That is a God thing. One of the interviews we had was with Natasha Ward and she’s a model and an actress. We’re part of the same agency out here and we get to touch on a little bit of that. The mindset that puts you in of that constant rejection especially even on the modeling side that its image-based that you start questioning all aspects of worth and value based on the lack of information, a lot of it and a lot of noes. It is a healthy refining period. It does teach us a lot of valuable things even though it’s hard in the moment.
To close on that, it taught me that my worth wasn’t going to be found in my successes. It wasn’t going to be found in acting. My worth wasn’t going to be found in becoming a celebrity or fame. Any success that I had in a lot of ways made me more empty because it’s like, “I’m here, I have to go there.” I needed it again. You walk into a room and you might book that national commercial. You walk into a room next week, you’re rejected again and like, “What? I did this last week and the people loved me. Why don’t you love me?” It was an incredible lesson.
I want to dive into this a little bit more and talking about work and identity because it’s something that I know I’ve had to deal a lot with. I know that everyone reading will have a lot that they can relate to. Maybe we start with basketball. You competed in college, where did you play?
I played at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire.
It was for four years there. Talk to me about what that transition into playing professionally was like and what that experience was like. We’ll touch on the identity afterward.
I didn’t want basketball to end. I don’t even know if I had a dream to be in professional basketball. I knew that everything who I thought I was at that time was in that, and I couldn’t lose it. After college, looking back on it, I was burnt out. I knew I needed to change, but I kept hanging on to it and I worked my butt off, like that achiever thing. I got a call from my agent the summer after my senior year in college. Over and over he called me and said, “Nope, don’t have anything.” I thought that I wasn’t going to play professional basketball or get on a team. I ended up taking a job with a guy who was starting a new medical sales company. When I was done playing basketball, I ended up coming back and working for him. I took that job and it was in Bethesda, Maryland.
I got a call the day after from my agent and said, “We found you a team in Porto, Portugal.” I was like, “Where is that?” It’s where they make Port wine. It was a humbling experience because I got injured two weeks before I went over. I was going over, I was a little bit damaged and I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want to fail. My entire journey of being overseas and being in this country where I knew no one, I was the only American on the team, and I also knew that I was injured the whole time, but I kept trying to will myself through. I kept getting injured over and over again to the point where last time I got injured they shot cortisone in my butt to try to heal my ankle. I went out and I played two more games and sprained my ankle again, I called home and said, “I have to come back.” That was the moment that I was like, “I’m going to retire.”
In that moment, how did you work through or cope with or process the identity that was about to shift?
Looking back on it, I never partied in college. I was driven, I wanted two goals. I wanted to become a professional basketball player. I didn’t want to play professional basketball, I wanted the title. I wanted to tell people I was a professional basketball player and I wanted to become a first team Academic All-American. I was proud of myself not just playing basketball but also being good in the books. That’s where I went. After I was done playing basketball, I went to a party. I started partying because I never partied. I never knew what that life was like. If I can’t find my identity and my successes anymore, I’m going to find it in having fun. Going out with girls, conquering whatever it is that you need to conquer, that type of life, the next high.
That was a journey after basketball, through medical sales and then into acting. The next thing is to conquer. Talk to me about that post acting. It seemed like the next big identity shift like, “This isn’t the thing I thought it was. This isn’t where I want my identity to be found.” What was that moment like and how did you process it? What was the context around that next shift?
That’s my come to Jesus moment. Everyone always says, “Why do you follow Jesus?” I was like, “I’ve tried everything else. Everything left me empty.” I was dating a celebrity in Los Angeles and we were going to the coolest places and the coolest parties. She was living in Beyoncé’s old place and it was crazy that I was living with her. I look back on it, the reason we attracted one another is because we both were as empty as the other. The emptiness in her attracted the emptiness in me and vice versa. It was a codependent relationship. The achievement then became this relationship in my life. That became my identity. “I’ve got to make this work. I get whatever it is.”
I ended up getting her pregnant and I knew that it was bad. It was an unhealthy relationship. We thought if we couldn’t figure out our relationship, bringing a child into it would make us whole, that it would make it work. I knew in my soul that it was not a good decision. I was going to do it because I was going to be a man and I was going to be a father. In about 3.5 months into her pregnancy, she came to me and she said, “Our relationship is horrible. I want to bring you somewhere.” I don’t believe any of it. I’ve never experienced more love in one place in my entire life and she brought me to church. She was an atheist. I told her, “I do believe it.” She’s like, “Our child is never going to grow up believing in God and believing in Jesus.”
Her bringing me to church that time caused more dissension because we’re fighting over God. At that moment, to see how God used her to get me back into church, changed my life. About a month later, she woke me up in the middle of the night. She said, “I’m having crazy pains.” We rushed her to the hospital and we sat in UCLA Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. They brought us through the back and we were there for three hours. She’s looking at me and saying, “Everything’s going to be okay. The baby is fine.” I said, “Are you hungry? Do you want anything?” She said, “I would love some crackers.” I went out and I went into where the doctors and the nurses are. I overheard a nurse talk to the doctor and say, “Have you gone in and told them that they lost the baby?” I wasn’t supposed to hear that.
I went back in next to her and I sat there. The doctor didn’t come back in for what felt like an entire night, but it was probably 2.5, 3 hours. They didn’t say anything because they were trying to figure other things out and she would look at me and say, “Everything’s going to be fine.” I knew that we lost it. I didn’t have the strength to tell her. In that moment, I dropped to my knees and I asked God to take me back. It’s like I heard God say, “I’ve been here the whole time.” That’s the moment where I made a decision to follow Jesus.
Thanks for sharing. There’s a sign above my desk, it’s Latin and it says, “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” It’s a reality and it’s amazing to hear the times when He brings us back to Him to be in relation with Him.
The next day, I remember her looking at me and saying, “We need to try again.” That’s why I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, that God gives us the greatest gift because there’s no way that I had the strength to say no. That night when I dropped to my knees and I gave my life to Him, He gave me this supernatural strength. I was like, “No,” and I left. Thank God that I did.
You can’t put it into human words, what He gives us in those moments because it’s not us, it’s Him in us. That’s when He gets the most glory and that’s what He wants anyway. I look back in many places in my own life, and there are many places where I would have been crushed and done or even dead. God preserved me by not allowing something to happen or by saving me. I can’t take credit. This is Him preserving me to where He wants me to be and it’s such a gift, such a blessing. It’s usually through immense suffering and hardship that we finally are broken and brought to our knees.
At that moment, I was introduced to my lifelong mentor.
I would say the best mentor that is in the world, that’s for sure. That’s a great way to look at it. My grandpa always says his partner, we call the spirit as partner, and I love that. It’s your confidence, your ally, your mentor, and it’s of all that and more. If we come full circle, you have a beautiful child and you are a father and married to your lovely wife, all of the things that God brought in the last handful of years from that moment. What is this experience like of being a father? From where God has brought you, how is being a father changed you in this season?
It’s by far the greatest gifts I’ve ever experienced. The capacity that we’re given to love incredibly expands. I never knew that I had that in me to love another more than I love myself. It started with marriage to Allyssa and then it grew with Camden. Honestly, simply seeing God’s design of marriage and God’s design of family shows you His ultimate sacrifice and that’s where we need to go as human beings. On a daily basis, I’m always laying down my life for my son. It doesn’t always feel natural that I have to put his needs in front of my own or my wife’s needs in front of my own, but the more we do it, the more natural it becomes. That was always the design like, “Where should I go? Where did I go off? Where did I go wrong?”
That’s an important order and distinction too. It’s always the doing that leads to the believing. It’s the doing that leads to the understanding. It’s not the understanding that leads to the doing. We have to take those actions and fight to believe and then we start believing. It’s always in that order, but we want it the other way. It’s like, “Into our thick skulls, let’s pound this in.” You have to act your way into the belief a lot of times. What would you say has been the biggest challenge in this season of being a father?
The time, by far. I never realized how much time I had to do many different things. The only time that I have to do anything for me is from about 5:30 AM to 7:00 AM. That’s the time that I need to spend in scripture. I need that every day. I need to have that foundation of truth to start every day. When I’m out during the day, I’m working with kids in schools and working with mentors. When I get home, it’s family time. That’s the biggest transition and it’s not a bad thing. I wouldn’t change it for anything, losing me time for losing we time, the family time.
It even goes back to what we talked about at the start, the isolation versus the community and relationship. We’re always going to have a poll for a little bit of both in that sense because we do need both. At the end of the day, we do need a balance in that. They’re both important in their own regard, but different seasons call for more of some and less of others. Those are important. You’ve got to lean into the season where you’re at.Your worth isn't going to be found in your successes. Click To Tweet
You hit on something that a lot of people had mentioned that’s unique about you and doing some research and that is capacity. That relates from a relational capacity standpoint. One of the common themes that kept coming up is the capacity that you have for relationships and cultivating them is abnormal and unique. Talking about your superpowers, you’re a connector. You’re a guy that’s always motivating. You have unending faith in others. You have the ability to see other people’s superpowers. One person said you are friendship embodied. What has created that relational capacity for you? How do you grow in relational to capacity?
The why behind it is, I know how it feels to be alone. That’s why I do it. I know what it feels like to be isolated. I know what it feels like nobody is there with you, even though they are. I know what it feels like to be alone. I have a mission for others that no one feels that. In an unconditional relationship, I know what it feels like to be in relationship with people because I want something from them and also, they might want something from me. If I stopped giving that to them or they stop giving that to me, I’m going to move on. I know the emptiness that creates. How do I have the capacity to be in a meaningful relationship with many people is the understanding that I don’t have to be everything to everybody. I need to be what is needed to those individual people.
The follow up then is, how have you grown or how have you been able to discern what is needed with relationships in people? How do you grow in that sense? It is a sense, or a skill sometimes, but more of a sense and skill combined.
I gave a talk about meaningful relationships and how I build meaningful relationships and to answer a question about what is needed. The three things that I’ve always needed, that’s what I try to give to everyone that I come in contact with is a level of care. They know that I genuinely care for them. They feel taken care of in my presence. It’s hard to explain care, but you know when someone cares about you. They’re going to be there for you. It’s an unconditional type of care. The other thing is consistency, I’m going to do what I’m going to say I’m going to do. If I haven’t talked to in a little while, I’m going to reach out. It’s such a beautiful thing.
We can use technology for good and for bad. One of the best ways that I love using technology is if God puts someone on my heart, shoot them a text message. It means everything and that didn’t cost me anything to do that. Being consistent, I’ve always wanted consistency. I want someone to be by my side when I was in a good place. I want someone to be by my side when I needed them most, maybe in a bad place. The third is unconditional love. Whether you mentor with Good City Mentors or whether you bring food over to our house when Camden was born, love isn’t transactional.
We’re trained that way. Culture and society train us to operate on that. We look at love as a resource, not as a gift and there’s a big difference. That even goes into God’s design. God’s design is not to see love as a resource, it’s to see it as a gift. That’s also the importance of marriage. It’s a gift that you’re giving in a bond that’s committed, not some resource that you’re trading for. One has fulfillment and one has momentary fulfillment or momentary happiness from it. It’s interesting how many layers this has to it.
That’s important, the three you gave there: genuine care, consistency and unconditional love. It highlights the fact something I’ve been talking about with a lot of people that you see it in David. David is a man after God’s own heart. What does that mean? It’s definitely not only the actions, it’s a heart. It didn’t say, “A man with action is after God’s actions.” No, it’s a heart. Out of the right heart flows the right action. That’s what you’re saying too with genuine care is that, if you have a heart that genuinely cares for someone, the right care will flow out of that, and the other people will know regardless of whether or not is the right care in the moment. We have that sense of the heart. That is a helpful reminder, for myself included. All of us are like, “That’s what’s needed in relationships is genuine care.”
How do you have a capacity? We have almost a hundred mentors. I am the Director in our volunteering. I have to have a connection point with every single one of our mentors because that’s an important thing. There needs to be that facilitator, that cultivator, that person that’s leading our program. What I realized is relationships aren’t always about having to do anything. You live in Glendale. I live on the West side. You invite me on Fridays and I’m like, “I love that you invite me to come over.” Everyone should come over to things on Fridays. There’s no possible way that I could tell you that, but I love that you keep asking because I know that’s genuine care. You’re like, “I’m going to get Brian over there. We’re going to get the whole family over.”
My capacity expands when I realized that it wasn’t always a doing or an action to building a relationship with someone. I didn’t have to physically be there with them or in front of them, it’s more of the posture of the heart and those little things that I can do to have that other person know that I care, that I’m consistent. Whether they can do anything for me or not, they know that I’m going to unconditionally love them and I’m going to be right by their side if they need me. If you need me to drive out to Glendale from the West side, I’m there.
You’re making a point. Love is in the no as much as it is in the yes. True love is not just saying yes because that’s what they want to hear. It’s saying yes when they need to hear it and no when they need to hear that even more and that’s arguably harder. True love is harder than fake love. I do agree with some of the comments that people make in reaching out. You have a measure of what was said, “Unending trust, faith and pride in the people he surrounds himself with. He sees things in other people that they don’t even see yet themselves.” This belief in the people that are around you, where does that come from and what fuels that? How does that play out in your life? Is that conscious or unconscious and what does that look like?
I remember Jeremy when I was 25 years old. I was done playing basketball and we’re partying. He looked at me and he goes, “How come you haven’t made it?” I was like, “That’s deep.” It hit me because there was something inside of me that felt like there’s so much more to me than what I was giving. There’s so much more contribution that I could be in the world than I was living out. He was thinking, “Why weren’t you running a big business by now?” He was right. I was like, “There’s something inside of me and that’s what I see in people.” I see what I felt that there was so much more inside of me than I was putting out, but I also believed. I didn’t get that there were unique gifts and there was a purpose in my life and that I could use it to help others and all this stuff. I felt it but I didn’t know it. That’s what I see in people. I believe that God doesn’t make mistakes. If you’re here and you’re alive, God has a purpose for your life. I want to help people see that if they don’t see themselves.
It’s powerful and people are seeing that. If we can carry that into our daily interactions, we don’t know the impact that’s going to have on others, but it has a much bigger impact than we would expect or believe and it’s as simple as caring about them but also believing in them. It’s empowerment, not just care. It’s pushing for their best. It’s not letting them settle. This brings us back to where we are. To highlight what we talked about in the hero’s journey, there were eight years or so of searching, and those experiences on your own. Robert Greene’s book Mastery talks about the timeline it takes to gain mastery is 7 to 10 years. This is a universal length of time. I experienced the same in my life with golf. From college through my professional career, it was about almost eight years and that was a deep dive into this experience of what it means to pursue mastery in this sport.
That fueled all that I did with the book and that I’m speaking to has been amazing because it’s taking a lived experience and turning into knowledge and then turning into empowering others. The same is true for you with your life, those were eight years of experience of like, “Where is meaning found? Where is purpose and happiness found? What do these different avenues entail?” After those lived experiences, going through the knowledge journey of putting into information and where you are is taking that and giving it to others in Good City Mentors. That brings it full circle. It’s a beautiful picture. I want to hear about Good City Mentors, what the seed, the planting of that was like, and then we can talk about where it is now.
Thanks for piecing that together for me. You have a gift with that, piecing fragmented stories together to give it purpose. At the end of those commercials that I shot, I shot a Jif Peanut Butter commercial, “Choosy moms and dads choose Jif.” It’s a new promotion to try to get dads pumped about Jif Peanut Butter. I was the dad. I went to a city-wide Jif Peanut Butter commercial tour where I was hired as a guest speaker, not really. It was a friend who’s a pastor at my church and he was an English teacher and he’s like, “You did all these commercials. You should come to our school and you should tell the kids all the things that you did.” I went in and I put together my best motivational speech. It was at a last chance school in Crenshaw, and it was with kids who are either were formerly incarcerated or kids who had been hanging on by a string with tough experiences.
When I prepared a motivational speech, it was about love and basketball. I figured since that was a movie, then it must go over well with the students. It went over horribly. After I was done, I had the mic drop and I said, “What if the purpose of love is not whether you win or lose, but how well you love one another?” I talked about my high school basketball experience. I was losing this New York state championship and I walked out. I thought there was going to be a standing ovation from this school and it was 100 students staring at me like, “What is wrong with this white dude? Who is he? What happened?” One guy stood up and goes, “F this dude.” The whole school erupted laughing. I ran out but God stopped me and said, “Go back in there. This is not another moment where you’re going to run from your fears.”
I went back in there. I talked to the teacher who invited me and I said, “You set me up, didn’t you?” He said, “Yup. Those kids don’t care what you have to say because they don’t know that you care at all.” I said, “What do I do? How do I help?” He says, “You want to help? Everyone comes in here and thinks they know what our students need the most. It might be a motivational talk, it might be afterschool tutoring, and that’s good. It might be bringing in products. What our students need is you. About every other person that you know to consistently come in here and start investing and caring about their lives because they don’t have it.”
Two weeks later, I called every single guy I knew. If I knew you at the time, I would’ve called you. I said, “There are a bunch of kids that need us in Crenshaw, California. It’s only about four miles from West Hollywood, South LA. Are you in?” Almost every guy that I asked said, “I’m in.” I was like, “That’s incredible. I thought no one would do it.” Two weeks later, the teacher talked to the students and all the students that he asked said yes. I thought that was incredible. I thought there was no way they would want to do something like that. We started a little in school mentorship program, that years later is my entire life.
Was it the principal that brought you in?
He was an English teacher.
How did he know? Talk to me about his foresight. It seems an amazing instinct from him and knowing how to empower you. That’s almost a beautiful picture of a mentor right there. What did he see in that or what was his thought process in that, if you knew?
Now that I think about it on the other side, he had always known that the answer and the greatest need was mentorship, to bring some positive caring adults into students’ lives because that’s what is missing in many of our students’ lives. He had tried it a bunch of times and failed. He’s a talented, gifted man, but he’s an English teacher. He didn’t have the time to run what it takes to bring together 35, 40 people, bring together the students, be the bridge, curate, facilitate the program and all of the stuff that goes into it is massive and he didn’t have the time to do it. He saw me and was like, “That’s my guy. I’m going to get that guy to run it.” He had already the vision. God put the vision in his head before I’ve even met him.
I love how God equips us for what He has and then He pieces it together. He brings the pieces together beautifully. Give me the elevator pitch of what Good City Mentors is and where you’re going.
We bring people like you, Thane, who is creative, inspiring and professional with so much to give, so much to offer. We bring people like you into high schools to work with awesome kids, awesome students that could use some positive caring adults in their life. We do it in a unique way where mentoring is not a one-to-one match that we’re maybe used to in the models. We do something called team mentoring where you’re in a team or a community and we all come together. All of our mentoring is done in the school. We meet the students where they are. We tried it outside of school, but it never worked because you can’t find them as soon as that bell rings. While you’re in that community in school, you naturally, organically vibe with who you vibe with. Through that, you start meeting the students and the students start meeting the mentors. We are partnering with fantastic businesses.
One of the great things about being in Los Angeles is we have some of the coolest brands in the entire world with some of the coolest employees that want to help the kids that they knew away and it was doable. We partnered with employees from Netflix and a lot of employees from Netflix in East Hollywood. We partnered employees from Banc of California Stadium, which is Los Angeles football club new stadium. We partnered with employees from Capital Group, which is the biggest private equity financial firm in the world, connecting their employees into the schools and giving them an opportunity to serve.You don’t have to be everything to everybody. You just need to be what is needed to specific individuals. Click To Tweet
The two of the pillars you mentioned were being in the school and team mentoring. Did those come by trial and error, learning what doesn’t work first to learn what does work? Is that the process? Walk me through those things you’ve learned over the years.
When we started this in school, a little mentoring program, the only mentoring that I knew was the big brother, big sister model. The one-to-one, every other weekend you go do something, go on a hike. The students that we work with, we work with teenagers. We started with that model. We have these 35 men. We started only a men’s program and we had these caring adults that wanted to do good, but it was outside of school whenever you can. As soon as that bell rang, the kids that we worked with, they were gone. You could never find them. I remember chasing kids down like, “We were supposed to hang out.” They’re like, “I don’t know you like that.” It was hard to build any caring connection.
Unbelievably, through failure for about the first year and a half of that one-to-one outside of school model, we realized, “There’s no way this is going to work, we’re burning our mentors out.” They’re trying to locate kids throughout Los Angeles. We brought everything inside the school, a built-in community, a built-in container. The kids are there. It’s probably the best chance for them to get on a good path, for them to be successful at school. We started partnering with teachers, with administrators, how we can help the school be successful and better. It was a whole bunch of trying out what model works and failing that we came up with this model that we feel is a citywide, not just a citywide but a scalable nationwide school-based mentoring model.
I want to underscore the fact that almost always, the process of learning what to do starts with learning what not to do and that entails failing. We need to embrace the discomfort of failing and say, “This is a necessary part of learning what to do. It’s a necessary part of growth.” I do love the team mentoring and in the school and from experience getting to be a mentor. I’ve seen the benefit from that model and it is the most effective way to facilitate these relationships. When you’re going once a week, an individual level is a hard leap to get to that level. If we can make stepping stones to get to that level and set this massive ten-foot gap leap, it’s always going to be more sustainable. In light of a nationwide thing, what has prevented this model from being done before? Why isn’t it being replicated more often?
The first thing that comes up is when we come in and we consult with other types of organizations that need a mentoring, we’re starting to consult with the Los Angeles city on this new mentoring model, their biggest thing is, how do you find your mentors? Where are they coming for? We can’t find any mentors. It’s a cultural shift. A lot of our mentors are Millennials. A lot of them are wanting to serve, to use their gifts to help others, to change the world and to impact the world. That’s part of people’s lives, it’s not what you do when you retire anymore. Purpose and fulfillment are demanded by employees and jobs.
We’re on the cusp of trickling someone who needs to create a model that’s doable for employees. Whenever we go to businesses, right away we give them away in a bridge and they’re like, “I’m in. How do I sign up?” We’re there, to be honest with you. Our relationship with Netflix is proof that when we put out an email or we have someone put out an email, immediately 75 high-level employees are like, “I’m in. Where do we go?” That’s another thing about the mentoring model to make it doable. One is the team aspect, it’s not all on you. If you can’t make it one day, you’ve got to do something awesome.
The students know fifteen other mentors that they’re more connected to a community than they are to one individual person. Naturally, you’ll vibe with one person or a couple of people. The other thing is that making mentoring doable by making it close, LA makes us do that. You’re a unique specimen that you drive from Glenville to Hollywood to mentor, thank you very much for doing that. The majority of our mentors won’t do that because it will take up almost half your day. You’ve got to make it easy, make it doable and show up. We partnered with Netflix and there happened to be four high schools right next door to them in East LA that needs employees. They get to take an hour of their day and walk across the street.
That’s a profound point. To underscore what you said with meaning, purpose and fulfillment, being demanded throughout our lives instead of after our careers. We talk a lot about the negative aspects of social media and the age of information that we live in and they definitely are plenty to go around from the negative side. From the positive side, there are a lot of those too and one of those is the fact that people start understanding that they need to make an impact because there are a lot of places that need their help.
They start realizing the impact isn’t something on a global scale, it’s on a personal, individual, local scale and that’s what leads to the bigger impact. That’s one of the best blessings of this next upcoming generation in the world that we live in and seeing more of the needs as we recognize our role is more active in filling those needs. The cool thing is how can we help facilitate that? You guys have done a great job. Honestly, I’ve been blown away by making it as easy as possible. It truly is as easy as possibly an hour and a half, once a week. It’s amazing having it be something that simple.
It’s an hour thing, but you go above and beyond. You stay there for 30 minutes to connect, which I appreciate. When I was younger, I’m like, “Doesn’t anyone see that I’m going above and beyond in whatever I’m doing?” When we’re younger, we need to have those wins. We need to have those affirmations because it helps. We’ve got to celebrate it. That’s why I see that in others because it’s all that I wanted when I was younger.
Even with that little bit of time, over a two month plus period, it has blown me away, the level of impact you can see it having. I have been floored by the difference you see in the students over that short period of time. It has been humbling and also encouraging realizing that it doesn’t take rocket science, it doesn’t take these massive commitments that we think we can’t give. It takes consistency and showing up. It’s as simple as that.
I was on the phone with my wife, Allyssa. We were leaving a session in East Hollywood with a whole bunch of Netflix employees and she’s like, “How was it?” I said, “It was incredible. Will you please remind me how simple it is?” All we do is we create a safe space for mentors to give, share, listen, and ask questions for students to share their hearts and their challenges and their struggles. That’s all that’s needed that consistent connection. We hear all the time, “What’s your greatest fear as a student, a young person being judged?” If anybody who works with young people, if you can create a space where they don’t feel judged, then they’ll show you their heart.
You fell into the high school age more than you chose it. What do you love about this high school age of life?
People are like, “Don’t you want to work with elementary school kids?” I’m like, “No. I don’t want to work with them because they are not screwed up yet.” I don’t say that like our high school kids are screwed up, but life in general. The older we get, we take on all of these things, we take on life and we take on so much. I feel called to work with students that have experienced challenges, pain, loss and trauma. Those are the ones that are the closest to becoming grownups in society, in our world. It’s a crossroad in their life, those teenage years. Remember when you were a teenager, the choices you’re making are critical. I feel called for that age. The other thing is in that age, as a teenager, a lot of times your challenges, struggles and emotions, you wear them on your sleeve. You try to hide them, but you can’t. You try your best that no one can see them. You still haven’t got that grownup thing where you can fake it. You know when a kid is struggling.
You get a lot more sophisticated faking it the older you get and you add layers on top too. You suppress things deeper to where it takes way more unpacking to bring it up. Knowing myself in high school, I didn’t swear but I told myself, “I’m never going to work with high school.” I can’t help high schoolers. I know who I was and there was no way I could. Here we are. It’s ironic. It is a neat age. One of the things from my perspective is there’s this car that’s moving down a road, down a path and if you can influence that car in the direction it’s going early enough that small shift that direction doesn’t take long for it to get back on the right path. The longer it goes on the road without any directional shifts, the longer it will take to get back on the right path.
It’s an age where you’re reaching it to where hopefully you can make that small shift to get them on the right path on this a lot quicker, easier than it is after more of the same down that path. It’s powerful. The other thing that was interesting that a lot of us would agree because I’ve enjoyed getting to know the other mentors, too. One of the questions was, how do you identify the mentors that you want to be a part of the program? Part of it is who’s willing and able. There is a part of seeing and empowering that is part of your role in facilitating. Do you have any methodology or process in that?
Every mentor that we have has been built from those original 35 guys in one way. A friend of a friend that I invited in, that’s the foundation. Our teams are diverse, which is the makeup of Los Angeles. We have diverse experiences, diverse race, and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. There has to always be a foundation of mentors that are the anchors of the program. You’ve been there for a few months, you’re becoming part of that foundation. Once you have that foundation, you trust them and we can start bringing in other people and see how it works out. It’s almost in a weird way, people will either select in or select out and you know. God always brings us the right people. People that are supposed to be there stick around and stay and are connected. The kids and the people that maybe want to come in for a couple of times and have a great moment. The people that leave, they were just there for that moment.
You’ve been through a lot. Life has been a journey and it is for all of us. God has definitely grown you through a lot of trials. Looking at this season of life that He has you now, when is faith hardest for you?
When things aren’t going the way that I want it to go in my mind, my will. That’s the initial go-to and the initial thought is like, “What’s up, God? Why isn’t it going that way?” As I’ve continued to mature in my faith, that’s the moment that gets me closer to Him. It’s when things aren’t going well. That’s God saying, “This is your moment to lean into me and to seek me more.” You start to see the design of, “If things always went good and always went well, why would I need God?” I start to see that in my life. I wouldn’t need to depend on Him for anything. I wouldn’t have needed to drop down to my knees in that hospital room because I’d come to the end of myself and couldn’t do it anymore. If it was all going okay, I would have never needed to do that.
God is all throughout scriptures like our cornerstone. What’s the point of a cornerstone? It’s to hold the rest of the building in place, it’s the foundation. He’s our rock, our anchor, our refuge. He’s all these things that you go and depend on in the moment of most need. That’s the design, even in sin. Sin is to show our need. It’s showing, “This is why you need me. Without me, this is where you go.”
To touch on our sin and our wrong, you can look at it as like, “I screwed up again.” That is the moment where I looked for other things other than God to fill that God-shaped hole inside of me. Someone said, “You have a void inside of you and it’s God-shaped.” I’m like, “That’s true.” I’ve tried to fill that void with everything else and that void got bigger.
That’s how I like thinking about it too. There’s a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by one thing. Ultimately, it’s Jesus. It’s a personal experience I had, too. In my life, when I have that hole filled with Jesus and I’m pursuing Him, there’s no hole. There’s no lack of meaning and purpose. There’s no why. It’s full and it all makes sense. When I’m not, there is that longing for more. When it’s full, there’s no longing for more. That’s my experience that I can’t deny, it’s real. I can’t help but believe, which is beautiful. What is the most common self-talk? What is the thing you have to preach yourself the most?
You’re not enough. Your non-profit is not big enough. You’re not reaching enough to the kids. You’re not recruiting enough mentors. You’re not raising enough money. You should have grown faster. You should have expanded nationally. All those things all fall in the, “You’re not enough” line.
That’s the lie. What’s the truth you preach to yourself?A great leader is one that is led. Click To Tweet
The song I Am Who You Say I Am by Hillsong. The truth is that I’m enough in this moment. I don’t need anything more to fill my identity. My identity is sealed in Jesus. He says that I am His child and I am loved by Him and He has a purpose for my life. On top of that, I don’t need anything more. Everything else is a bonus round.
What do you wish you knew more about?
The spiritual answer is I crave to know Jesus more. The more that I seek Him, the more that I see Him. It’s not a lack of wishing I knew more, it’s a bonus round. I’m full and I want more but it’s not because I don’t have it already. I got it. The life answer, the worldly answer would be that at this moment, I wish that I knew how to raise more funding so I could start hiring more directors to go into more schools to reach more kids. That’s what I wish I knew more of.
Scaling, the next step, the next phase. What does being an up and comer mean to you?
The first word that came to my mind is I’m emerging. We’re always an up and comer. From my experience in life, I never was like, “I’m there.” Other than my faith, we’re always an up and comer. There are always places to grow. Up and comer is someone that realizes that they don’t have to get anywhere. We’re always in a place of growth. We’re always in a place of journey, a process.
We might have to steal that and put it on our website because that’s money. That says it all. What are your cornerstone habits?
An hour in the morning when I wake up, I spend in scripture. The last couple of hours of every night needs to be with my wife. To end the day with the best thing that’s ever happened to me and it was God giving me the gift of Allyssa. I love shooting hoops with my sixteen-month-old baby every day on a little Tikes hoop. I always think, “Is it healthy?” He’s choosing the thing. It’s his only option, but he’s choosing it.
What books have had the biggest impact on you?
Right before I got on that cruise, before I called Alex and told him I wasn’t taking that job, I read The Alchemist. It said that there’s a destiny on your life, there’s a purpose in your life. I knew that I was not taking that job. I was going to be moving to New York. I was living in Florida at the time. Obviously, the answer is the Bible. That’s the truth. I read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the Nike story. That was incredible. He probably did this on purpose, but I read it and I went right to the outlet and bought a whole bunch of Nike stuff. I don’t know if you’ve read that or not, he never quits. Nike didn’t happen overnight. He wouldn’t give up on it. Everything said, you need to become an accountant, you need to go back to your leg job, and he did it and he kept pushing forward. That’s a great book. I devoured that in 2.5 days and I don’t read like that. If Phil is reading, we’d also love to have a lot of mentors from Nike.
If you were to give a TED Talk, what would you speak on?
Building meaningful relationships.
What does it mean to be a leader?
What we teach is that leaders build meaningful relationships and create meaningful change in their life. That’s what we teach our students. I believe that because that’s from my life experiences. Leadership is all about building meaningful relationships with people and creating change in the world and create something good. Why would you lead people into something that’s not making the world better? More than anything, a great leader is one that is led. The one that I follow is Jesus. Leadership is to be led.
Last question, if you could send a morning text reminder to every Up and Comer out there, what would you say and why they get this every morning on their phones as a reminder?
I would say two things. I’d say, “Just show up.” Whatever it is in the day, just show up. It is so much of life. You might not know why. Just show up and then you’ll figure out why. The other thing is, “You’ve already won.” The flip side of that is, “I’m not going to do something. I’m not going to try because I might fail.” We’re so afraid to fail in life. There are so many things that we know inside of us that we want to go for, make, and create but we don’t.
“Just show up,” and “You’ve already won,” are powerful words. Where can people find more about Good City, about you and all the work that you’re up to?
GoodCityMentors.org is our website. We have all socials. Right on the front page of GoodCityMentors.org, you’ll see one of my favorite students of all time, Rashid. We got him a job working at the Banc of California Stadium. Go to the website to check Rashid out.
Brian, this has been a blast. I am grateful that you were able to come on the show. All the nuggets that you dropped are going to be such a blessing. Until next time, keep up the great work.
- iTunes – The Up and Comers Show
- Patreon – The Up and Comers Show
- The Up and Comers Show – YouTube account
- Oksanna – future episode
- @UpAndComersShow – Facebook
- Brian Larrabee
- Good City Mentors
- The Hero’s Journey
- Natasha Ward – past episode
- The Alchemist
- Shoe Dog
About Brian Larrabee
A leader in building strategic community partnerships for social good.
Connecting employees from brands such as Netflix, Uninterrupted, AEG, Capital Group, Soho House, SAG, etc. with local underserved high schools, creating a mentoring movement across Los Angeles.
Check out our YouTube!
Send us an email – firstname.lastname@example.org