“Enlightenment, joy, and peace can never be given to you by another. The well is inside you. — Thich Nhat Hanh
Here’s what I’ve found to be true in the realm of personal development: one of *the* most powerful things you can do to further yourself, in whatever aspect of “yourself” you hope to improve, is to form a strong alliance with an enthusiastic mentor.
The caveat being this: YOU have to be willing to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. And I think this is where the vast majority of to-be proteges screw up the relationship.
This applies no matter if the mentor in question is a person, or an entity (plant medicine, for example); the protege cannot simply show up and hope to be “spoon fed”, or “fixed”. The onus is *always* on the protege; the mentor simply adds subtle color, direction, course correction and polish; collectively understood as “sage advice”. The absolute quickest way to end a mentoring relationship? Have the mentor for a second think he has to motivate you to action. Motivation and will-to-grind is for wannabe entrepreneurs. For the true entrepreneur, motivation and grid are second nature; like breathing, they don’t even think about these attributes. The impetus toward action is already woven into the true entrepreneur’s DNA.
And, too, remember the mentor himself is still learning. No one is at the ultimate “there” yet; the top of the mountain can only approached, never reached. As such, the protege is expected, in a reciprocal manner, to stretch the mentor toward new insights and knowledge; to ensure the mentor never falls into “echo chamber” mode. Which, of course, ever more endears the mentor to the protege who possesses the ability to do just that. Waste his time with bullshit and idle chatter though, and he’ll quickly be done with this relationship. There are many paths to the top but none involve time sucks and dumbing down. Anyone worth mentoring under will deftly avoid these mind and will-numbing trip wires.
Toward that end, one of the biggest gifts a protege can give the mentor is a window through which to see the “now” environment. If the older and wiser have a weak underbelly, understanding the current environment — and, therefore, an accurate assessment of pending trends — is where it resides. Think of how quickly kids and young adults adjust to the current cumulative conditions in which they find themselves, while the more grisled have a tougher time adjusting. While the sage mentor realizes this shortcoming (which has a basis in the natural brain physiology known as “pruning”) and adjusts accordingly to compensate, he’ll never be as swift or as deft as the younger in this respect. If the protege realizes the mentor’s dilemma here, he can be a great aid to the mentor by way of facilitating the process of realization by being an accurate environmental conduit.
Few proteges, though, either understand or are willing to enter into such a rich, complex give-and-take. They think the relationship is (or ought to be) strictly one-way; the aforementioned “fix me / spoon feed me” mentality. And I don’t mean to imply that this necessarily comes from a selfish position on the part of the protege. Rarely is that the case. No, mostly this comes from the protege’s feeling that they can’t possibly have anything of value to offer the “sage”. Which is, I’ll tell you now, never the case. Being at that curious point of my life and career where I’m both protege and mentor, I have a unique view on this process. The major take-away from being in this position is the realization that being a better protege makes one a better mentor. And Vise-versa.
This notion is nothing new, of course. “To be a good leader, one must be a good follower” is one of the most hackneyed phrases in the personal development lexicon. But how many actually take that phrase to heart?
And when you think about it, this is much like the trainer – client / coach – athlete relationship. I’m sure this is why some of the most proficient “proteges” that I’ve had have come directly from the coaching arena themselves. Quite simply, they “get”, and are not intimidated by, the process.
One other mentor-protege dynamic that is a sure-fire signal of a pending trainwreck is this: hand-holding on the part of the mentor. The flip side of that being idol / guru worship on the part of the protege. If the mentor you seek encourages either behavior, he / she is not a true mentor, but has some serious ego-centric concerns of their own that you’ll only enable and encourage by getting entwined in such a relationship. Run far and run fast if you sense either scenario taking root.
No, a true mentor expects only that you do the heavy lifting, take their advice to heart, *act* on that advice, stretch them in return, and change the world for the better as a result of the relationship. That’s it.
Monkey see, monkey do
A true mentor realizes (and a shrewd protege understands) that a copy cat approach of simply mimicking the mentor’s *actions* that produced results in the past always end in sub-par outcomes for the protege. Each must realize that it’s not the precise actions that matter (those are set, setting, circumstance and personality dependent), but rather it’s the mindset, attitude, and thought patterns that make the real difference.
That is to say that, it’s the mentor’s overall worldview and drive that would produce the results no matter the environment. The actions were simply the precise tools needed under the particular circumstance and climate of a given time. Put Elon Musk in a time machine and spin him back to 1850s England and he’d have been a success there and in that time. Same mindset and will, but with a different, situation-dependent toolbelt.
We study the likes of Miyamoto Musashi and Genghis Khan to get a glimpse of their vision and philosophy rather than the specifics actual stratagem. This makes sense to us as they operated, essentially “ a world apart” from the one we currently inhabit. The environment has changed dramatically, we think, but human nature remains unaltered. This is true though, whether we speak of eras, or decades. Of foreign cultures, or our own.
As such, when I have time with one I’d consider a mentor, I delve more on the overarching philosophical of a subject rather than the actual play-by-play of the situation. We want the strategic heaven view vs being mired in the tactical hell. As a close corollary, see my Everybody has a Plan… Until They get Punched in the Face post.
Heath thyself, harden thyself; change the world!