In order to achieve mastery in a given field, it is important to have mentors whose mastery you would wish to emulate. Forming a connection with someone who has already achieved the same goals as you can vastly increase your chances of succeeding. Not only do they show you how they made it possible for themselves, but they could also see the potential in you to do the same and tease out what you might have to do in order to improve.
The Eternal Student
One of the best ways to approach life is to act as if you are a student from now until eternity, constantly learning and constantly growing. While it is important to celebrate victories and milestones as they come, you cannot allow yourself to get too attached to those small instances of joy. They can feel really good in the moment, as they should, but a sense of pride and enjoy are fleeting, much like most things in life. It’s all temporary and not meant to last.
If you veer off too much into being proud of your accomplishment, you can risk stifling your growth because you will have become so arrogant as to think you know it all now because of this one peak among the valleys. Know that you can always be reaching one peak higher than the last so long as you draw breath. And all the other valleys that come in between are nothing but stepping stones toward that next peak.
Having a mentor guide you through your journey can help you measure whether or not the challenges you come across in your given field are worth conquering or if they are nothing but dead weight. Operating from your frame of reference you will only be seeing the forest for the trees and a good mentor will be able to see where you are at from the bird’s eye view above the said forest.
If you remain open minded about seeing each challenge as an opportunity to learn something new about the world and yourself, then you are already ahead of most people who do nothing but complain about life not giving them what they want. Important things in life must be earned through our own sheer hard work and determination. Almost nothing gets handed to us for free, and even if you do receive something for free, it’s not really free–but that’s a topic for another day.
If you also have a mentor while having this mentality then you can accelerate your growth if you are willing to take their feedback and criticisms of your ever growing mode of being. Mistakes will happen and you have to accept that. If we already knew exactly what to do and how, there would be no point in even experiencing life because then you would be operating from a place of absolute perfection that it’s not even human.
It does not matter how driven or ambitious you are, anything worth achieving requires a lot of hard work and determination, and none of that comes easy. And so a good mentor will constantly remind you that while you may make mistakes along the way, they can reassure you that it is all part of the process and in fact, they are important for the process because that sting of failure can often be a strong motivator to not make the same or similar mistakes down the line.
Choosing Your Mentors
A mentor can be anybody you look up to. Maybe you’re a bodybuilder and need a personal trainer to be your mentor. Maybe you’re an artist and need a professional artist to be your mentor. Or maybe you’re a writer and need a writing coach to be your mentor.
A mentor should be someone who you can talk to on a regular basis and share your progress with and have the express purpose of getting open and honest feedback on how you can improve yourself. They need to be well accomplished in a way that you wish to be and need to be willing to show you the ropes rather than see you as a burden to their own growth, in which case they might not be mentor material because they have yet to establish themselves in their field.
However, if for whatever reason you cannot find a mentor you can talk to in person or even online, there is also the concept of virtual mentors. These can range from a plethora of rich and famous people who may or may not even be in the same field of expertise you are wishing to excel at. For instance, as a writer, you can still look up to an actor not so much in content of what they do since it’s different from your work, but the content will be very much the same: a creative person who is constantly taking on new projects and exploring different sides of their self expression.
If you go the virtual mentor route, pay close attention to interviews involving these people and learn from how they compose and explain themselves when they are asked questions regarding their professions. The real questions, though, not the celebrity fluff like what their favorite flower is or if they like Christmas. Real questions that could be asked of an accomplished writer such as Stephen King that could be along the lines of, “how are you able to consistently write 1000 words a day?”
The first thing to note is that he has a very reasonable daily goal. Two thousand words a day might sound like a lot to some people–it certainly would have when I was still starting out as a writer–but it is definitely manageable with enough practice. Then the second thing is that it’s an almost daily accomplishment for him which can tip you to the fact that there has to be some kind of routine he goes through before he gets himself to sit down and write those 2000 words a day. And lastly, how he handles himself in the zone of writing those 1000 words is important to note as well.
What Stephen King does before he sits down to the write for the day is have a glass of water or tea around the same time every morning, about 8:00am-8:30 and ensures that his papers and desk are set in the right order as he sits in the same seat each day. This ritualistic approach to his writing primes his brain to remember that when he takes these certain actions that they will inevitably lead toward writing those 2000 words he sets out to write each day. And he does not allow himself to stop until all is said and done which happens between 11:30am-1:30pm before he is free to go about his day any way he pleases afterward.
Now while you might not take the exact approach as Stephen King would, as a writer it is important to establish daily rituals that get you into the mood for writing as consistently as possible. The content of Stephen King’s routine are not important, at least not for you. The context is more important. The context of someone who has reached a certain level of mastery in his given field who has an established routine that makes it almost certain that he accomplishes what he sets out to do for the day.
The advantage of having a mentor you can actually talk to, though, is that they can provide you with even more insight about their routines in a way that just reading a book about them would not suffice. Because then you can ask more nuanced questions about what happens if certain aspects of the routine are disrupted or somehow not possible, or what they would do if they still cannot engage in their practice despite having done their seemingly surefire routine. And if they are generous and humble enough, they could share how they deal with their own self doubt and how they squash it in favor of higher pursuits.
Humanizing Your Mentors
As great as mentors can be in showing you what is possible in a given field, we must also remember that they are still human and are prone to mistakes themselves. The point of having a mentor may be to emulate what they do in order to succeed, but that does not mean you need to follow their advice and examples to a tee.
While it is great to choose a mentor who is much further along than you are and is in a position to help you out immensely, you cannot fall under the trap of thinking that they are the paragons of success. If it is not enough for you to listen to them share about their past challenges and how they overcame them, you need to be hyperaware of the challenges they may still be facing in the present all the while lending you a hand with your endeavors.
So do not idealize or idolize your mentors. They may be ahead of you in your current field, but remember that they too may be lacking or struggles in other areas of life so not all of their advice and guidance may be valid. You will have to be very discerning in deciding whether or not to follow what they say. For all you know what works for them may not actually work for you, but a good mentor will always be adamant about letting you know that there is a multiplicity of paths that can lead you to your destination, not just theirs.
This doesn’t mean that mentors are completely useless in the end. It just means that you are better off with mentors than you are without, but you cannot depend on them to show you all the ropes. A lot of those other ropes they cannot show you are the ones you need to discover and explore on your own, using all that you have learned from your mentors in order to orient toward the right direction.
Do you have any mentors in your life?
What difference have they made in your life?
Let me know in the comments below!