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Mentors

2012/02/15

Cliché or no, this thought begins with a definition;

men·tor/ˈmenˌtôr/
Noun: An adviser.
Verb: To advise or train (someone).

Sounds like a teacher.

teach·er/ˈtēCHər/
Noun: A person who teaches, esp. in a school.

Strange, what’s the difference between teaching and training?

teach/tēCH/
Verb: Show or explain to (someone) how to do something: “she taught him to read”.

train/trān/
Verb: Teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.

Immediately the difference becomes clear. Training involves teaching, but it also involves a more significant investment of time, effort, and energy.

It makes sense. I can remember very little of what most of the teachers I’ve interacted with in various classroom settings have said. There are a few exceptions. Specifically, those instructors who gave an extra few minutes for a conversation to explore a topic in more detail, or answer a longer form question unsuitable for classroom dialog. They stand out as memorable, as having a voice and a face, a character in history as I remember it.

In career contexts, I’ve had mentors. People who have taken time to understand how my thought process functions, figure out what was important for me to learn, and teach, lead, and instill values that would allow me to help and teach and grow in ways not previously imagined. As much as technical articles suit me, since writing about “I, me, my” feels pedantic and uninteresting, it felt appropriate in the spirit of yesterday’s celebration of love and kindness to spend some time this morning reflecting and being thankful for people who have held the title of mentor in my life.

The world as I’ve seen it so far (damn, there he goes again) is full of people eager to learn, to challenge themselves, to do something inspiring. Those are people who can benefit from mentors. WE NEED MORE MENTORS! Paradoxically, the thought of leaving an impression on the life of a fellow human can be intimidating. So, many people never consider themselves worthy, able, nor compelled or somehow otherwise prohibited from or uninterested in shouldering the responsibility of being a mentor.

Perhaps it’s not for everyone. Perhaps it takes, as they say, a “particular brand of crazy.” Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective and confidence; the feeling that one must be first an expert or master, then a teacher. This is simply not the case.

One particularly relevant conversation with a particular mentor comes to mind. Wherein, the following words were spoken which resound even still: “Just because you know something, that doesn’t mean everyone knows it. And just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. You don’t always have to be the expert. You just have to be an hour ahead of the next person who wants to learn what you’re learning.” It’s possible that’s somewhat paraphrased (it definitely is) but I believe the spirit remains intact. This person was also fond of the saying “Never take heed of your fears.” Again, paraphrased.

How great are commas, eh? Like, they’re really, well, simply put, the best, the most useful, just the best thing ever, really.

At any rate there’s a lesson or a point or something worth all the lead-in, right? Let’s hope. Otherwise why on earth are you still reading this (or whatever planet you’re reading this from…)

There is, and it is this. You can help someone. You can teach somebody, and even better if you give it time you can train them, and mentor them. If you’re doing something, making something, investing time and energy in something you can combine your time and effort with that of another human and do awesome things that will inspire others to learn and improve and in turn teach someone else. It’s just the way things work. There are all sorts of questions about what’s worthwhile to do, they’re less relevant than you might think. The lessons learned by a student won’t be limited to those which you intend. Let’s assume that what you can do or teach is worthwhile to someone. Don’t worry about being an expert. Invest a bit of time and effort in getting to know someone, see what they know that you don’t, and vice versa, and as long as you aren’t carbon copies of one another who have exactly the same knowledge and experience, agree to a common objective and pursue it together. The rest will take care of itself. We are all mentors whether we realize it or not. Might as well be intentional about it.

Lastly (finally, I thought this windbag would never shut up) a word of thanks (didn’t you just write 700 of them) to my mentors. To all of the mentors. You’ll never know how much your time is worth to the people you give it to. Just know that it’s worth much more than any number of words could ever adequately convey.

Sincerely,

A student trying to make sense out of this ball of confusion (seriously? is that supposed to be a segue? just, wow…)

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