Three thousand years ago, in ancient Greece, Homer wrote the poem “Odyssey.” The epic poem was 24 books long, detailing the wanderings of King Odysseus, and giving us the words “odyssey” and, more surprisingly, “mentorship”. In the epic poem, when Odysseus leaves to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusts his son Telemachus to the care of Mentor, his trusted companion. While Odysseus was away for decades, Mentor nurtured and guided young Telemachus in his time of need. Homer didn’t know it then, but he had given a name to the foundational human practice of mentorship.
“We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”
— Whoopi Goldberg
Human beings have always relied upon the guidance of others. Children seek the counsel of their parents as they learn to navigate through life. A new mother will look to her mother for guidance as she sails into motherhood. In the modern age, Educational institutions incorporate career guidance sessions to introduce students to professionals from different fields. Want to learn the tricks of the trade? A conversation with an experienced person is definitely a step in the right direction. A mentor is someone whose guidance we seek.
“Mentors are all around us. Who makes you feel confident, inspired, focused, and is willing to share their experience?”
— Anna Letitia Cook
There have been various mentorship systems since then including the apprenticeship tradition under the medieval guild system, the guru–disciple tradition practiced in Buddhism and the discipleship system practiced by Rabbinical Judaism and the Christian church. Mentors have grown into indispensable guides to navigating and understanding the modern world.
Why do we need mentors?
When contemplating whether to venture into a new social or economic endeavour, we find ourselves drowning in questions. Is this idea viable? Where do I start? What do I need? We reek of curiosity when deciding whether to indulge our interests. Whether you’re thinking of exploring a new business idea, career path or kidnapping your neighbour’s puppy, curiosity is what fuels your interests.
“The power to question is the basis of all human progress”.
— Indira Gandhi
So, where do we go to for answers? Mentors are who we look to for a release. They indulge curious minds and inspire growth by sharing their experience. A good mentor is one whose wisdom is drained from the experience acquired over the years. On that note, it is important to select your mentors wisely.
“I encourage all of you to seek out teachers and mentors that challenge you to think for yourself and guide you to find your own voice”.
— Renee Olstead
Would a farming enthusiast walk up to a fashion mogul for insights? No, “to each their own”, right? Although there’s always something we can learn from different people, our curiosity for a specific area of interest can only be quenched by the relevant experts. This is why the modern world holds dear the concept of mentorship.
How can you become a better mentor?
Here are a few tips to help you increase your impact on those that look to you for guidance:
1. Extend your mentees the courtesy of finding their own path. Instead of steering them towards a particular direction, simply shine a light on the journey they choose to embark.
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
— Steven Spielberg
2. Embrace the fact that people differ in terms of how they acquire knowledge. Some people prefer tackling the theoretical aspects before diving in. Others don’t mind getting their feet wet to discover what works and what doesn’t. Establish and emphasize on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
“You cannot transit wisdom and insight to another person. The seed is already there. A good teacher touches the seed, allowing it to wake up, to sprout, and to grow.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
3. Speak to your mentees kindly. Words are an indispensable teaching tool. Use your words to inspire growth and hope.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
While it is exciting to create or develop projects on your own, the reality is you need someone to guide you. In what areas of your life do you need mentorship? And, in what areas of your life can you provide guidance to someone who needs it?
Reflect and act.
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With love, from Tanzania