What is a Mentor and Why Do I Need One?
What is a mentor anyways? The word somehow makes me think of ancient times, guilds and karate movies. And while it is those things, it’s also much more and can be extremely relevant and helpful.
Interestingly, I have discovered a positive correlation between knowing my life direction and the number of mentors in my life. What’s more is that within the positive correlation is a positive feedback loop of personal progress and feelings of success.
So what I’m trying to say is that if you have a goal, any goal, and you find some mentors, amazing things will happen!
A mentor is someone who’s “been there and bought the t-shirt,” while you’re still standing on the side of the highway with your thumb stuck out. A mentor could be older or younger than you because the one big difference between you two is that the mentor is experientially ahead of you. That’s a very valuable resource.
I arrived in Belize on a backpacking holiday a few months ago and while I had done some online research about places to visit, I wasn’t totally set on my itinerary. Given that it was the rainy season, there was the possibility that some roads would be washed out and that I wouldn’t be able to visit a few places. As I stood in the car rental shop feeling a little lost, a couple walked in to return the keys to their vehicle. I jumped on the opportunity to ask them about their travels.
I asked them questions like where were you traveling? How long were you traveling? Where are you from? How comfortable were you on the roads? Did you stay in hotels or hostels? These questions allowed me to get an idea about what kind of travelers these were as this would help me gauge how closely their responses might match up with what I was looking for in my travels.
We seemed to match up. Then I asked the couple about the road conditions, their favourite places, and what had been recommended to them by others.
The couple was extremely receptive and even went so far as to pull out a piece of scrap paper and note down names of people and places for me. Then they went even further and pulled out a map to show me the routes.
I thanked them profusely, provided some of my own contacts to them who had been offered to me prior to arriving in Belize, and we all went on our merry ways.
Sitting in my 4×4 Jeep, I felt a little less intimidated and a lot more ready to explore. While I didn’t do everything the couple had suggested, they’d provided me with information that allowed me to pick and choose my own journey.
I successfully avoided the road that had been flooded, and was connected to a fabulous tour of a cave that ended up being the highlight of my trip.
So what does that all have to do with mentorship? Everything. In 15 minutes, the couple had travel-mentored me, and I was better off because of it.
You see, being mentored allows us into tacit knowledge. Some skills and pieces of information are very difficult to transmit through writing, or general texts. Learning how to go about things can also be a huge challenge in unfamiliar cultures, be they in another country, or just another office. Mentoring is the “how-to” of unsaid things, loopholes, connections and inside info. It’s the “don’t take that road it was washed out just yesterday” and the “make sure you visit this pyramid because at this time of year the howler monkeys eat the leaves from the tall trees just to the south of the steps”.
Developing relationships with people who know about the things we’re aiming for can be incredibly rewarding. I have found that I have developed a collection of mentors over the years, and as long as I stay on a particular trajectory, they also stay in the picture, cheering me along, providing advice that I am never obligated to take, and overall opening my mind to a world of possibilities.
Find a mentor, or two, or three. And be a mentor. It’s worth it.