Masters and Padawans
Gandalf and Frodo. Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Sean Maguire and Will Hunting. Katsumoto and Captain Nathan Algren. What is it about these relationships from stories like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Good Will Hunting, and The Last Samurai that captures the hearts and minds of humanity?
Apparently we love stories of the teacher and the student.
There truly is nothing new under the sun if you look at the similarities between all of these stories, yet we are helplessly drawn to them. I believe this is because we are hardwired to desire this very form of personal relationship that is formed on the longing for a reciprocal relationship based upon the transfer of knowledge, experience and wisdom. In the words of the Hebrew King Solomon: “the glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” Just as a rocket requires the explosive energy of colossal amounts of fuel to be tempered by the massive accumulation of human intellectual capital in order to dance upon the dust of yesterday’s impossibility, so mankind has consistently found need for both the passion and inexperienced optimism of the young along with the sharpened foundational wisdom of the old, a beautiful dichotomy of healthy submission and of continual growth and exploration.
While the concept we seek to plant within the fabric of our own lives has come under various classifications such as “discipleship”, “counseling”, “or “guidance”, I find this idea sufficiently explained with today’s practice of “mentorship”. Mentorship can be a scary word to some and, quite frankly, many people fail to do it well. It can often carry the connotation of dominance and inferiority. At times it can blow a cold chill within a relationship between two people, creating an awkward, austere sense of formality and rigidity. Or it may lean the other direction, beginning with hopes of mutual benefit and satisfactory passing and receiving of valuable understanding while reality brings about a much less anticipated and potentially egregious result.
In my (very limited) experience, I have seen that while so many desire to “be mentored” or “have someone to look up to”, they seem to stumble through the process of how to obtain that type of harmonious relationship. That’s why I decided to share my thoughts regarding mentorship and the opinions I have developed along the way on how to operate well in beginning and maintaining healthy mentorship relationships. While I am still painfully aware of my “wet behind the ears” state, I’ve also come to accept some of the insights afforded me through intentional pursuit of understanding and experience in this area, so please take a few grains of salt with you to sprinkle across the writing of a self-proclaimed “padawan”.
Lesson 1: Be bold…
If you are in search of someone to mentor you and find yourself waiting for that someone to come to you, GOOD LUCK! Every once in a blue moon you may stumble across someone with the time, interest, and ability to mentor you who will initiate a mentoring relationship but in my experience this is not something you should expect. Odds are there’s a reason you’ve selected this person as someone who you want to learn from which means he or she is in high demand. Every person that I’ve ever admired enough to pursue mentorship from is protective of their time, and for good reason. I’ve learned that in asking them for their input, I am asking for them to sacrifice some of the only non-renewable resource on the planet: time.
So to those of you who think you’ve got enough hot stuff going for you that mentors should be BEGGING to mentor you, you might want to grab a bite of humble pie. In the same token, many people choose not to pursue mentoring relationships themselves because they feel unthoughtful or greedy, as if the person they are asking to mentor them would rather do anything but mentor you. There is a fine balance between undervaluing the person’s time (see lesson two) and feeling afraid of coming off as presumptuous. Most people of experience are honored when they are asked to share their wisdom, so Nike up and DO IT!
Sometimes being bold means humbling yourself and risking rejection. Don’t be offended or hurt if you find yourself the one initiating meeting up with your mentor. Remember, you are asking for a sacrifice on their behalf yet it is a sacrifice that most people of Yoda-like status are simultaneously seeking opportunities to invest in people they find to be of high potential, people who are fully committed to growing as much as possible through their time together. To demonstrate this, I’ve found it is helpful to do two things: first, as we’ve already talked about, YOU need to take the initiative to meet up, whatever that looks like. Mentors are often looking for an ROI (Return on Investment), and if you fail to take the initiative to set a time to meet, what are the odds that the time they spend investing in you will produce any return on the investment of their time?
Second, do your research. When you meet with a mentor, you should already have a game plan of what you would like to learn from him or her. This doesn’t need to be a seven page, single spaced checklist of interview questions for him but there should be a level of preemptive thought regarding how you desire to grow through the relationship. For me, I recognize that I meet with three of my biggest mentors for different reasons due to their specific skillsets and/or experiences, so I go into my time with them specifically looking to grow in the areas where I find them to be strong.
My uncle is a very forthright man. He oftentimes (at the embarrassment of his family) will ask for the most outrageous and generous favors from others…and receive them! He has shown me that it truly can’t hurt to ask. So BE BOLD!
Lesson 2: ….but Not Too Bold!
As I said earlier, pursuing mentorship relationships is a balancing act of boldness and humility. While on the one end of the spectrum many are too timid to approach a person whom they would love to grow from, many lean the opposite direction, assuming that the person whom they eagerly want to learn from has nothing better to do than to pour into their life. Oftentimes these are people who are so passionate and so excited about their own life pursuits that they sometimes struggle to see the realities of the lives of those around them, resulting in presumptuous petitions that, due to their extreme nature, might often simply go ignored. Instead of asking for one hour a day from that CEO that you’ve always admired and hope to model your career after someday, perhaps begin by asking him out for coffee (you buy). Or maybe it’s a 15 minute skype interview (at his convenience), or meeting for lunch once a month (his choice…and you buy). This is not a black and white issue as there are many people whose personalities and lifestyles lend to having more time to freely give so it is absolutely a judgment call. My point is before you shoot for the moon, you might want to make sure it’s loaded and pointed in the right direction.
Lesson 3: Give and Take
“To him whom much has been given, much will be required.”
Have you ever learned lessons in your life? Is there anyone you know who is younger than you? If you answered yes to either of these questions, YOU TOO CAN BE A MENTOR! My first two points were to the matter of seeking a person with more experience to mentor you, as I will be the first to admit the extents of my wisdom due in course to my limited number of laps around the sun. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I have come to believe that young men and women all to often doubt the power of what they have to offer those even younger or less experienced than them. It is not hubris to recognize the value you have to offer the world because of your unique gamut of knowledge and experiences. Be sure to walk the line of true humility but I encourage you to not only seek to be invested in but also whom you can invest in.
I’ve been teaching karate now for more than 14 years and I’ve discovered that I’ve grown so much, if not more, as a karate teacher than when I was directly under the instruction of my teachers. As you pour into the lives of others you will likely find you are simultaneously developing yourself. The process of mentorship is an extremely dynamic one with benefits coming from both sides of the field.
With this said, it is important to be real with where you’re at in life, the extent of your knowledge in different areas, and where your true value lies. The freshman, second string quarterback might gain from waiting a couple of years before trying to share expertise with his teammates, but that doesn’t mean he can’t invest in the lives of the kids on the peewee football team! Just be self-aware of what you have to offer and where you still have room to grow. In other words, don’t try to be a Yoda when you just learned what a lightsaber is.
Mentorship is a beautiful process. It is how boys and girls become men and women, how hard earned wisdom and painful lessons learned become transcendent of time, flowing from the confines of one person’s life and multiplying their impact in the life of another, who then pours into another, who pours into another, so on and so forth. It is, what I perceive to be, the single best way to live beyond yourself by maximizing the effect of your assets upon the world. Perhaps you have thought about this topic a lot already or perhaps it is new to your brain. Wherever you fall, know that we were all made to learn and to teach in some way or another, to be both Yoda and Luke. How you do that is entirely up to you.
(Did you like the blog? Have any thoughts? I’d love to see your comments below!)