It’s one of those questions that comes up regularly at networking events. People take turns introducing themselves and describing what they do for a living. And then it gets to be my turn. “I’m a mentor.”
At first there is silence – it’s a real conversation stopper. And then someone asks, “What exactly does a mentor do?”
I’ve tried several ways to explain. Here’s the one that seems to make the most sense to people.
“A Mentor is kind of a mid-wife. You wouldn’t give a mid-wife credit for the baby, would you? But the skills, experience, advice and support of a mid-wife helps the parents get through the final push towards birth The same is true for a breakthrough to a eureka moment. I help people to be re-born.”
A Mentor isn’t a magician. I don’t create what is not there in the first place. There’s an old Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Like the mid-wife, who needs a child nearing birth, I look for fruit that is about to ripen. Yeah, I know that’s a mangled metaphor, but it does describe how I select people to work with.
In any group, there are those who have decided to make the effort to change their lives. Maybe they have made the commitment to deepen their self-understanding. Perhaps they have come to believe that their life is going in the wrong direction. They have decided that it’s time to make a change – to embark on a truly transformational journey.
One of the characteristics of the ‘ready’ is that they are less sure of themselves. Bravado and manufactured certainty have run their course and no longer work. Some seem adrift and disconnected. It’s often an indication that they have begun to turn inward. But, whatever the way, they are open to discussing the possibility of self-discovery.
That’s where I come in. Much like the mid-wife, I assess the patient. Are they ready for what’s to come? Is it time? Do they have the determination to stay the course? (OK, that one doesn’t apply to mid-wives but it does to Mentoring.)
My guiding principles are 1) that people are far better than they think they are and 2) that they can realize that by beginning a journey of self-discovery. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even that hard. It’s a journey that must be made.
“You need that rite of passage to the summer of your life.”
That’s it in a nutshell. A Mentor is an experienced guide. Someone who has walked the paths, faced the challenges and slaughtered the daemons. Who can lend courage and support when the going gets a bit rough. And, bring out the best in others. For the most part, they are people who have had the great good fortune of having mentors themselves. Mentors want to pass on the experience.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II