02/20/2013 05:56 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2013

Learn to Shave on Someone Else's Face First

It is very important to have a mentor when you pursue your passion. With the right mentor, you can pursue your passion in any field, and avoid costly mistakes. Like my grandfather in Panama used to say: "Cuando aprendas afietarte, trata de aprender primero en la cara de otro," which means "when you learn to shave, try to learn on someone else's face first."

Omar Khan was a scrawny teenager when he walked in the office of Buddy Teevens, the Tulane football coach, in 1996. Khan, the son of immigrants from Honduras and India, wanted to learn about football, not the game so much as the business of football, and was willing to start on the ground floor.

A Tulane student at the time, Khan volunteered to work for free and was willing to handle any task thrown his way. The coach had seen others like Khan, or so he thought.

Many students begged for work but in the end weren't willing to put in the time, because they weren't getting paid. Khan, on the other hand, took on every assignment and became indispensable to the Tulane football program.

Khan handled everything from computer projects to travel arrangements to filming practices and games.

In 1996, while still a senior at Tulane, Khan managed to land himself an internship with the New Orleans Saints. As was the case at Tulane, Khan handled any and every project given to him and, in early 1998, he was hired as a full time employee of the Saints.

One of his mentors at the Saints was Terry O'Neill who helped the football team with salary cap issues. Khan helped to research the contracts that O'Neill negotiated. By age 21, Khan was negotiating some of the smaller contracts. When O'Neill left the Saints, Coach Jim Hazlett hired Khan to be his administrative assistant.

On his 24th birthday, Khan was hired away from the Saints by the Pittsburgh Steelers. At age 25, he became the youngest business coordinator in the National Football League. Khan rose to the position as the Steelers' lead negotiator, in addition to coordinating the team's travel plans, and managing their salary cap. He has negotiated some of the largest contracts in Steelers' history, while keeping the club's salary cap under control. Today, he's in his 12th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Khan is in his third year as Director of Football and Business Administration.

Charles Krauthammer found himself an extraordinary mentor. Dr. Krauthammer wouldn't have become a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist without his mentor, Dr. Hermann Lisco. When he was a freshman at Harvard Medical School, Krauthammer was paralyzed in a serious accident. At the time of the accident, Dr. Lisco was the associate dean.

Lisco convinced professors at Harvard to give the paralyzed student bedside lectures. Because Krauthammer was unable to write at the time, Lisco also persuaded the professors to give the injured student oral exams. Lisco even arranged for Krauthammer's rehabilitation to take place at a Harvard teaching hospital, so the student wouldn't fall behind in his studies. Krauthammer used a wheelchair to go on rounds with his fellow classmates.

Thanks to Lisco, Krauthammer finished his medical degree. He became chief resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He later became a science advisor to the Carter administration, and a speechwriter for Walter Mondale. In the 1980's, Krauthammer turned to writing and won that Pulitzer Prize.

Whatever your passion is, you must find someone who has already achieved what you want and learn from him or her. Try to build a relationship with that person so you can learn directly from them, even if it means working for free.

Mentors can do more than just teach you how to succeed in a particular area. Mentors can help you avoid the mistakes they made along the way, which gives you a huge advantage.