Community has been a major theme lately in my perception; the lack of it, the need for it and how to create it. I think about the roles we play within our chosen communities or more importantly, the roles we choose to play for our chosen communities. Those are the important ones because those are the ones that can make a different for others.
Some of the roles we choose are an extension of our careers as we are in service to others by the work we do. Some roles are decided for us, like where we fit in our family dynamics. The most important thing to understand is that with every person that we encounter in our day, whether it be family, friends, a customer, or a total stranger in a grocery line, we take on a role. We show them an aspect of ourselves that we feel will fit the situation. It may be your polite friendly self, or your vulnerable insecure self, or your patient self, and sometimes, your angry self. They are all aspects of you but also roles that you take on to communicate a need or desired outcome.
One of the roles that sadly is lacking in our community is the one of mentor.
The traditional interpretation of a mentor is a person who takes another person under their wing and guides them into the upper currents of their particular area of expertise. A mentor is an advisor, they have already covered this ground before. They know the hills and valleys and can help you navigate the path. They are a guide. They help show you the way so that you can make the journey that is your life a little more safely. But the role that a mentor plays that I feel is the most important is that of a confidant. Someone who will sit with you and listen to your fear and angst and uncertainty. They understand like no other because they have been on this path as well.
Every article I have ever read about the most successful people will mention that they had a mentor. Most, had someone who was at the top of their game in their field guiding them upwards to fame and fortune. Co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg sites Steve Jobs of Apple fame as his mentor. Bill Gates of Microsoft mentions Warren Buffet and Oprah Winfrey’s mentoring relationship with Maya Angelou is well documented. But these examples are of the extreme and the majority of us just need a wise person who can cut through our crap and help us gain clarity.
A mentor does not have to sign on for the long haul either. Just for as long as they feel they can contribute. But most mentors who commit to mentoring someone will always stay vested on some level to the success of the person they have mentored. We all like to see the ongoing success of a pet project. It’s like re-visiting a tree that we’ve planted years before to see how it has grown. There is great satisfaction in that.
Oh how I wish I had a mentor when I was young. A person who had no vested interest in my success, but who was committed in making sure I did not fail. Someone who would cheer me on but not dictate my decisions or hover over my every move, but allow me to choose for myself. Then pick me up, brush me off and give me a swift kick in the pants when warranted and push me back on the path with some sound advise and a little bit of inspiration when my choices failed.
We all have knowledge that someone else would find helpful. We just need to find someone who has more knowledge, wisdom and experience than us in the area we want to be mentored in. Today, we call this kind of mentor, a coach. Someone who will help us create the steps needed to achieve a goal and hold us accountable to take them.
This is similar to the traditional apprenticeships of most trades through out time. A master takes on an apprentice and teaches them the finer skills of the trade. Once the apprentice has acquired a proficient level of skill, they embark out on their own but the master is always there to advise. And so it goes from older to younger, passing down from one generation to the next the skills and techniques of a proud craft.
Today though, career paths have changed. Who can keep up with the technological advancements. What was learned a decade ago is obsolete today. It is an era for innovators and forward thinkers, not age old traditions. Where do you find a mentor now?
It’s a daunting task to ask someone more successful in life to mentor us. If finding a mentor was so easy, we would all have one. Who are we after all but a mere student, an apprentice. It takes guts and a little luck to even get close enough to ask. That is why I would suggest the opposite. Instead of the student finding the mentor, I think it is more important that the mentor find the student. Just as we needed, or wished, we had someone advise us along the way, it is the responsibility of the wise to freely pass on the knowledge gifted to them to those coming along the path behind them.
But the mentor today must offer a different kind of mentorship. Not the passing down of time honoured skills and craft but the wisdom of human morality. It is because the world is changing exponentially that the skills to ground and balance us to the speed of progress are needed like never before.
It is the soft information that is needed most right now and it is the wise mentor who can guide and support for success in those areas. The know-how to succeed financially or career wise is only a click away. We now have instant access to anything we want to learn via the internet. More than ever society needs to have face to face human contact to balance out our internal and external worlds. We still yearn for re- assurance from someone we value and respect that we are doing things right. That we are being a decent human being. That we are of value and that we use our value for the good of all.
The kind of mentor I am challenging you to become is one who will help another use the success they are achieving in such a way that when it is their time to become a mentor, they will guide others with a whole heart and from a place of gratitude, and responsible stewardship for their community and the people they serve. They will be able to do this because they would have had the support behind them mirroring a kinder way.
The best traits of a modern mentor
- First and foremost, the ability to listen with out judgement.
- Someone who shows commitment to their mentee.
- A willingness to share their knowledge and wisdom freely.
- Someone who lives a congruent life and strives to have a work/life balance.
- Someone who truly knows and understands themselves and the world around them.
- A positive attitude and an optimistic outlook on life.
- The ability to offer advise with a positive desire to help but the ability to let go of the outcome.
- A willingness to learn new things.
- A willingness to fail as well.
Be a mentor for someone who is a little behind you on the path of life and find a mentor who is a little ahead of you to guide you forward. We all have something we can teach to others and there is always someone we need to learn from. But most importantly, be willing to reach for the best pieces of knowledge and wisdom for the betterment of all and then, share it freely.