February 07, 2014

The Case for Finding a Great Mentor (or Two)

If there’s one thing that we should know, it’s that we don’t know everything. Socrates himself admitted as much. So don’t fret, we’re in good company.

Here at Ei, we’re living in the “Year of the Mentor” – we’re referring to it as such because we recognize the value in looking to those who’ve blazed trails before us. By admitting that we don’t know everything, our mentors help fill in the gaps of our unknowing.

During this term, two mentors have been generously donating hundreds of dollars worth of their two cents to aid in my growth as a writer and as a human being.

One mentor is an accomplished writer who regularly lends her talents to the New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review. She has dedicated the greater part of her life to diligently nurturing her craft; it is her artform. As a mentor, she acts as my editor and guide, giving my writing no choice but to improve.

Another great mentor is a Greek Orthodox priest who serves at St. Anna’s parish in Northern California. He is also an ecclesiological scholar, which means that he knows what he’s talking about when he talks about church history.

As I embark on my second term with Ei, my goal is to immerse myself in an Orthodox monastic community and write about it (now you understand why my mentors suit me perfectly).

Let me suggest, as one who has benefitted from the following, that you consider these things to help you in your personal projects/goals and development as a human being:

Finding a Great Mentor

The definition of a mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” Know that there is someone out there who already knows what you want to know. Find them. Let me take this a step further by saying that you can find this person more easily than you think. Put the intention out there of what you hope to learn or are aiming to accomplish (post to Facebook, Tweet, grab coffee, make an effort, etc.) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how the right person will show up for you. It’s not magic; it’s simply leveraging the reach of current friendships to make new connections.

Be Humble

If you’re going to subject yourself to the evaluative eye of a mentor then be ready to receive their feedback. This feedback will cause friction with your pride, but remember that you’ve asked for it, and sometimes learning means that you’ll have to unlearn things that you once thought were right. This has proven true for me in both my understanding of Christianity and in my approach to crafting a sentence.

Maintain the Relationship

In approaching both of my mentors, I had a clear idea of how I wanted to grow in both skill and knowledge.

With my writing mentor, I wanted to gain insights into writing as an artform and discipline, and learn how to tackle writing projects on a larger scale than I’d undertaken before. I entered into the dialogue with an idea that I wanted to develop.

With my priest mentor, I wanted someone to answer my questions about faith, early Church history, and also to direct me to the places where I could find answers for myself. I entered into the dialogue with a list of questions to ask.

Regular communication is what keeps the mentoring relationship strong and leads to the challenging thoughts, questions, and insights that help me grow.

Obey your Mentor

Our culture is so defiant to this idea of subservience to an authority figure, and I don’t know what to say except: get over yourself. We can all benefit from the advice of someone who knows what they’re talking about. Your mentor is probably a gracious and generous person, if they’ve decided to donate their time and energy to you, so to pay them back, at least temporarily: follow their advice. If they give you reading assignments, read the books. If they give you work assignments, do the work. If they tell you to wax on and then wax off for hours on end, then trust that there’s a purpose to your toil.

As it’s still early in the “Year of the Mentor”, I don’t speak as an expert mentee, but I do share as one who has benefitted from the insights passed down from those who know much more than me and who’ve traversed the roads I’m about to travel.

The Spark You’ve Been Looking For

Visit our store to find award-winning education tools used by individuals and teams around the world.