The Principle of Least Effort: Mentoring The Ready

Earl R Smith II, PhD

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The process of mentoring is different than that of coaching. I describe coaching as ‘teaching you how to do something better than you have been doing it.’ Those of you who pursue the sport of golf may understand what I am saying. If you want to get better at your short game, you get a coach who can help you improve it. Maybe you are not happy with your prowess with a putter. Again, get a coach that really knows how to putt and learn from them. The objective of coaching is to make you better at what you have chosen to do.

Mentoring is different. The question on the table is ‘should I be playing golf?’ People come to me to try to figure out their life and the direction that it should be taking. Most of them have been successful in one or more areas. Many of them have built wealth as a result of those successes. But they have reached a point in their life where a far more fundamental question has taken center stage. ‘What should I be doing with the rest of my life?’

I divide those people into two broad groups. The first, attracted to the quick fix mentality of most coaches, are looking for some magic fairy dust that will reveal the path forward. They are outward looking and mostly seeking someone to point the way forward.  They follow the Principle of Least Effort. “Let’s get one with it. I want to find the new direction and start on a new journey.” They will try to get the most for the least effort and settle for the appearance of change rather than real change. But …

Real Change Requires Real Change

There is an old Zen saying – ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear’. For the most part, these people are not ready. Given a bit of time and more experience, they might become so. They generaly have gone through a series of coaches – looking for that quick fix – and getting more of the same results. Mentoring a person looking for a quick fix is frustrating and mostly ineffective for both the mentor and the mentee.

Then there are those who realize that the journey that they must make is inward and involves gaining a lot of ‘self-knowledge’. A line from an old song come to mind. “I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me.” Here the driving force is less a dissatisfaction with life but a determination to find an authentic use for the time remaining and to discover that authentic self who will make the journey.

When I meet these people I don’t see distress but optimism and a determination. There is a zest for life and a thrust for authenticity. They reach out to me not seeking a lifeguard who will pull them out of the surf but seeking a guide who has traveled roads that they have not. They have no use for the Principle of Least Effort because they know how bankrupt it is.

Early on I believed that that one of my jobs as a mentor’s was to call people on their laziness and thirst for quick fixes. To dissuade them from taking the easy way. Now I take a different approach. I only work with people who have no use for such a principle – people who hold themselves accountable – people who have come to realize that it is their life that is at stake. They avoid the easy ways because they can no longer abide such an inclination and will not allow it to divert or slow them down on their quest to realize their true purpose in life.

Mentoring can be very hard on a person being mentored – that is, if they have the right mentor. Finding the answer to that vexing question – ‘what should you be doing with the rest of my life’ – is not a matter of wandering down the aisles in a supermarket and picking out a can of beans or a particularly nice cantaloupe. The journey inward is not for the faint of heart and not without risks. And for me to say here that it is ‘worth it’ is to make it sound as simple as the principle of least effort might make is seem. But it really is worth it and is the only journey that really matters in any life. Every other one is just a distraction.

To live a life and never know who you are or what you were meant to do with that life is a terrible thing indeed. But it is far worse to spend a life avoiding the very journey that is the only authentic use you can put it to.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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