Being a mentor has been something of a rite of passage for people throughout history and finding a mentor is one of the keys to developing yourself as an individual as you grow older.
But what exactly is a mentor? How do you define one? And how do you find them in your own lives?
A mentor can take many forms but key to recognize is that a mentor is not necessarily a teacher. A mentor can also be a teacher but not all teachers are mentors.
Mentors then are people who can share bits of wisdom and give you tips and stories that you can help on your own journey through life. Very often, this will be knowledge that they gained during their own lives and things that they wish they had been told when they were younger. The mentor might teach you how to perform a particular skill but more often, then will share with you deeper lessons about the nature of being a successful adult, of success and of navigating relationships.
The first and most natural mentor in your life will be a parent. This won’t be the case for everyone though: if they perhaps disagree with their parents, if they don’t know them, or if their parents aren’t the mentoring kinds.
What’s more, is that it can be useful to find different mentors throughout your life, in order to learn different lessons and to get multiple different viewpoints. An important point to understand is that no mentor is infallible and no one is perfect. Even if you look up to this person in most aspects, they will still say things that you don’t – or shouldn’t – agree with. The more different mentors you have, the more balanced your education will be and the more diverse the experiences and lessons they’ll be able to pass on. What’s more, is that this will help you to develop a more cohesive worldview.
As Bruce Lee said, you must absorb what is useful and reject what is not.
As for being a mentor, this is something else that can be highly rewarding and even validating. When you have someone to pass your lessons and ideas on to, it gives them more meaning. By helping to provide younger generations with the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years, a part of you will continue to live on.
The great part is that some of those lessons will be things that you yourself learned from your mentor and so the cycle continues!
A mentor should be someone who has more experience and wisdom than you and whose opinion and knowledge you respect. Think of the people you look up to in your life and draw up a short list of people who you’d like to be your mentors.
Some people won’t be cut out for mentorship. Some people have a hard time verbalizing the lessons they’ve learned, don’t see the value in what they know, or don’t have the time or inclination to share their experiences with others.
Other people will be too busy, or you won’t have a close enough relationship with in order to start learning.
This is why not every role model will necessarily be a mentor and it’s why not all parents or teachers that we look up to become mentors. Mentorship is a different kind of relationship and one that requires participation from both sides.
Out of the role models and people you look up to then, think about the ones who are most likely to be willing to share their advice and expertise. Who among them has spoken openly and candidly in the past?
Now you have identified the people that you want to mentor you, the next step is to approach them. The key here is not to frame the relationship as a mentorship. If you ask someone if they’ll mentor you, you’ll often be met with blank stares or confusion.
Instead then, simply find an excuse to spend more time with them, or ask if they can teach you something specifically. You can even just spend time sharing a coffee together, or getting food. Use this time to try asking questions. Ask how they got to where they are now, ask how they learned the skills they learned and generally show an interest in hearing more from them.
If you can find someone who is already a teacher of some kind, then often this will be a good starting point. Otherwise, consider making an older friend. Finding an older friend will almost always lead to a mentorship scenario and in general, this is something that everyone should look for.
Meanwhile, keep yourself open to others who approach you and be willing to share your knowledge with those who ask for it. It’s a highly rewarding experience and an incredibly flattering one. Many of us could have a richer experience by introducing this relationship into our lives – whichever side of the equation we find ourselves on!