Sometimes people come into your life for a moment, a day, or a lifetime. It matters not the time they spent with you, but how they impacted your life in that time. - Unknown
If I asked you to picture a mentor, can you tell me what they look like? A wise greying gentleman like Mr Miyagi or Gandalf the Grey, or maybe a little more rugged like Robyn Williams in Good Will Hunting or real-life businessman Mark Bouris? Keen Disney fans might be screaming out examples like Yoda, Jiminy Cricket or Mary Poppins. History buffs might be thinking more along the lines of the original Mentor, who was a character in Homer’s epic The Odyssey that was actually Athena in disguise. But what about examples of mentors from your own life?
Many assume that mentors have to be older and more experienced, or that they are only relevant in occupational or educational settings (or for when those pesky trips to Mordor just so happen to pop-up). However, a mentor is any connection or person in your life that you trust, who guides and encourages you to reach your full potential. They model positive behaviours, they coach, and they act as a sounding board, a voice of reason, a counsellor and a trusted resource of advice and information.
The other assumption people make about mentors, is that all these qualities have to be wrapped up and embodied by a single person. Truth is though that you can have multiple people throughout your life who will serve to mentor you in many different ways.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is often quoted as saying “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” meaning that the people you surround yourself with are the biggest influence on what you think, say, do and achieve. Social influence studies conducted by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler went even further, finding that not only do your friends, but the friends of your friends (who you may not have even met) have a significant influence on your physical health like your weight and smoking habits, as well as your mental health and overall happiness.
So do you have the right mentors in your life?
Do you have someone to praise and appraise you?
While it’s ideal to be closely surrounded by positive, supportive people who want you to succeed, it’s also necessary to have your critics. Having connections who you know you well enough, and want you to succeed enough to give you honest feedback, to cheer your triumphs and offer constructive criticism will put you in the best place to succeed.
Do you have someone that offers validation?
This mentor is someone who will often share some commonality with you, who makes you feel socially accepted, who will listen to you vent over coffee, and absolutely understand where you are coming from. They get what’s important to you, why, and will act as a sounding board while you follow your passions.
Do you have someone that gives you perspective?
Like a devil’s advocate testing the strength of your skills or knowledge this mentor will challenge you with opinions and viewpoints you may not have thought of before. They might be an expert, a novice, a rival, or maybe they’re playing a completely different game, either way it doesn’t mean this relationship needs to be antagonistic, as long as they keep you on your toes and never let you get complacent or rest on your laurels.
Do you have someone you go to for assistance or advice?
This type of mentor functions as your Jedi master, your sensei, your top-hat wearing cane-carrying talking cricket. This is the mentor you go to when you are lacking the information, skills, resources, or other tangible things you need to succeed. If you have a question, their knowledge, experience and guidance can help you solve problems and overcome difficult challenges.
Do you have someone who supports you emotionally?
When the chips are down, and things seem bleak and hopeless, this is the mentor that guides you back into the light. They can be particularly insightful when it comes to helping you navigate and recognise your emotions, can help you set your priorities, and keep sight of your values. They will nurture you through your failures, kick your butt when you’re beating up on yourself, and give you the gold-star that boosts your self-esteem and motivates you to try again.
It is of course possible for one person to cover two or more categories; it’s also possible that you have more than one person in a single category. But do ask yourself if you have all the categories covered. Everyone in your life is involved in shaping it, for good and for bad, and not all mentors have long grey beards or sing cheery songs about spoonful’s of sugar. So make sure you take the time to develop genuine connections with those you admire, and those that admire you in return.