I completely failed to understand what the term, mentor, really means when I was younger. And I might look back on this post and say that again in a few years. But where I am now, and what I have experienced, has drastically changed what it is to say, “I need a mentor.”
As context, I grew up in a single parent household, with my mother trying her utmost best to raise two boys and a girl without losing any of us in the process. This means that my brother and I grew up with very little male engagement in the house. Mom has not remarried, and did not really have boyfriends. When this is your world, it seems as if most of your friends’ fathers try to, at some point, step into the ‘father role to an extent.
From where I was, in my naïve younger mind, a mentor or father figure, was someone that would be there to help you understand how this complex world works. A bit like a walk-through to the real world. Looking at my friends’ dads, I kind of felt that they were also still figuring it out, so they would probably not be able to help me, from a mentor perspective.
This thinking followed me into my 20’s where I would often find myself thinking that if I could only get a super-rich, successful person to show me the ropes, take me under his wing so to speak, then soon I will be super-duper successful too. Obviously, that never happened. What did happen, however, is that I was fortunate enough to have normal people come into my life, who had very real issues, limitations and with that, talents.
These everyday heroes, who washed in and out, I realise now, were actually my mentors. They showed me, just like a father does, that the ideal of the dad you have when you are kid, is actually just a normal, damaged dude trying his best. And sure, some are better than others, but nobody gets out the other side without taking a few knocks.
For me, that was quite a moment, when I realised that the mentors I had, just like in the Kung fu movies, are mostly just older people with experience, some good, and some bad. What makes them great is that they are willing to share. So if you are discerning, then there many really great mentors out there. None of them will have the keys to the palace, or be able to give you a lifetime-holiday, but they will be able to share a few gems that were hard-earned which, if used correctly, will save you from a lot of growing pains.
For me, this also means that I no longer wander around, looking of a mentor. What I try to do is have meaningful conversations with people who might have a nugget of wisdom to share. This further allows me to not become as emotionally dependant on the people I connect with, which is healthy.