No. 16: Kareem on Mentors and Why “Book Smarts” Don’t Guarantee Success




Musings on mentorship…

Back in the day, we used to look at [mentorship] as an older person of wisdom who will pass on knowledge to a younger person. Or a father teaching his son how to ride a bike. When mentorship in the digital age is — if I decide to do an article or a 30-minute Google hangout about how to get into voiceover [and] about how to create a demo…that makes me a mentor.

There was a guy named G. Keith Alexander. He was a voice actor. He used to work at 107.5 WBLS in New York. I hit this dude up in 2009. I said, ‘I love your work can you please tell me how to get into voiceover?’ This man sent me his number.

He said ‘Call me.’ I called him.


We spoke for 45 minutes. He said, ‘You have to get a tape and package it.’ I was like, ‘I don’t really have money to do that so I’ll just send my Mp3 out.’ And basically, he broke down the business to me from a voiceover actor standpoint. I have not spoken to him since 2009.

But that conversation transformed my thinking about how I was going about my career and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Sometimes you need different things at different times.

On mentoring others…

I’m from Brownsville, Brooklyn. I don’t know if you know about Brownsville but it’s sort of a ‘never ran, never will’ situation. Brownsville is pretty intense.

But he [my mentee] also comes from that same kind of environment here in California and so I understand what he needs. I think of mentorship in a way of — how can you really be of service to someone if you don’t really know what they need…when it comes to gender and race and all that’s going on in our workplaces?

I know that you need to be asked ‘How is your day?’ I know there are things you need just from a support system standpoint. Career guidance. How much I pay in rent. Or how do I sustain a living? What’s life like with student loans?

Those situations I’m happy to talk about. Because if you don’t know this information it might be a detriment to you.


Why good grades don’t always guarantee success…

When I think about what qualifies people to do certain things in life I don’t necessarily think about what their resume looks like, so my opinions on this might be controversial.

There was a study about why people who have bad grades tend to be more successful than people who actually had the [good] grades. Because people who had the bad grades were often criticized about that and so they find other ways and they excel in other ways and sometimes these people become your leaders.

These people become people in positions of authority because they develop that confidence because they had to. They had to adapt to their circumstances. I think that these people become lawyers, these people become judges, they become CEOs, they become executive management, they become voice actors.


People criticized me because I didn’t really have any experience but I was trying to get all the jobs. People thought, ‘Who does this kid think he is trying to be. He doesn’t have any experience. He’s only been in the business a year.’

And that’s because I know what it’s like to come from nothing. I know what it’s like to constantly be in a state where I want to hustle to get what I want and so that’s my defense mechanism.

I am probably more confident than people who may be more intelligent than me, may have gone to a better school than me. But they won’t outwork me, they won’t be able to navigate in the way I will because of my defense mechanism and because of the way I’ve been brought up and my experiences.*

This interview was condensed for clarity.


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