L.D. Zane conveys his thoughts on mentoring; who can be a mentor, what is a mentor, and whether or not you need one.
Who can be a mentor? Just about anyone: a family member or friend, an athletic coach, clergy, a teacher, a business or military leader, another writer, or perhaps you…just to name a few. Some mentors — like in the corporate world — are assigned to you. That, by the way, is a compliment. It is the corporate world’s way of saying, ‘We believe you are worth the investment of our time and resources.’ Some you will have to seek out. Some mentors will seek you out. Mostly, it happens organically. You don’t even know it’s happening.
And there is no age requirement. They don’t have to be older than you. Believe me, I’ve found some individuals much younger than I who were outstanding mentors. And why is that, you might ask? Well, that’s a great segue.
So, what is a mentor? Having been fortunate to have had a number of excellent mentors in my lifetime, I believe I can personally speak to this rather than just give a stiff dictionary definition. A mentor is, in my humble opinion, an individual who willingly and freely gives of their time to impart their expertise, knowledge, insights, wisdom and/or philosophy on a given subject matter. These individuals are usually selfless in nature — in that their goal is to improve someone else’s life without expecting any material gain in return. They are altruistic. And yes, these individuals are out there. I would like to believe that most of us have helped others, at some point in our lives, without expecting anything in return. Mentoring, however, is more of a long-term commitment.
They also embody other attributes — such as putting the mentees best interest ahead of their own. Like all of us, mentors have egos, but I have found that they are very comfortable in their own skin. They are not narcissistic. If you find one who is a total narcissist or realize that they are not putting your best interest first — as I unfortunately have — my advice is to run away as fast as possible. They will do you more harm than good.
One major attribute is that the mentor must have the patience of a saint. Think about it—they are dealing with individuals who also have an ego but may feel insecure in their grasp of the subject matter at hand. We all want to believe, at times, that we are the smartest person in the room, and do not like being told otherwise. I will freely admit that patience has never been one of my strong suits, which is why I would not make a good mentor despite believing I possess some of the other qualities.
A great mentor is also a visionary, in that they are able to ‘see’ a better version of us even when we don’t. And they are able to bring that out. They don’t do it by force —demanding that we do better — they do it by their actions, deeds and accomplishments. In essence, they become someone whom we aspire to be.
It’s my belief that two intangibles must develop for it to be a successful and healthy mentorship — mutual trust and respect. They, too, are organic and, unfortunately, may never come to fruition. It cannot be forced, faked, or manufactured. It either develops, or it doesn’t.
Both parties need to absolutely trust that each has the other’s best interest at heart. And both parties must respect the other’s capabilities — even though they may be unequal. It is a symbiotic relationship — you cannot have one without the other.
You and your mentor may not always agree, but both of you must keep an open mind to the other’s viewpoint. Mentors can be wrong at times. They are neither omnipotent nor infallible—they are human and, as such, are prone to mistakes. Be prepared to defend your position in the event that you disagree with your mentor. This will demonstrate to them that you are indeed learning, and growing, as an individual.
If you are fortunate enough to develop that complete of a relationship, my advice is to hold on tight and do your best to never let it go.
Whether or not you need a mentor is very subjective. There are those who are more than capable of doing their own research, and successfully achieving their best without being introduced to the influence of another individual. I, for one, am not one of those. I may not need a mentor in every endeavor, but it is comforting knowing that, on occasion, there is a guiding hand — even if I don’t know, or won’t admit, it’s needed.
And that, dear reader, is called humility. Your mentor should possess that as well.
Wishing you the best in your writing adventure,