We all get advice from time to time from colleagues, friends and relatives. Even our children often have something to say about what we should do or not do!
But how do we know when to consider someone as a mentor? Pondering this question, it is wise to look at the origin of the word “mentor” itself. This is quite an interesting story.
The story of Mentor takes us back more than three thousand years ago to the Odyssey, the epic work of the Greek poet, Homer. This is the story of Odysseus, king of Ithaca who fought in the Trojan War. Odysseus entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, to his old friend, Mentor.
After the Trojan War, Odysseus is condemned to wander in vain for 10 years and prevented from returning home. During this time, Telemachus went in search of his father accompanied by Mentor on his quests and journeys.
In the Odyssey Mentor provided guidance, encouragement and support to Telemachus during his journeys. And so, from a story written nearly three thousand years ago, we have inherited the word “mentor”, which has come to mean “a wise and trusted counsellor, friend or teacher”.
History offers many examples of supportive mentoring relationships, i e Socrates and Plato, Beethoven and Haydn, as well as Freud and Jung.
Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal involvement in assisting the development of another person.
When we observe mentors in general, we will notice that they share a number of attributes. For example: Mentors are those special individuals who care about others enough to share their wisdom and to give them guidance on personal, as well as professional matters. They are in contrast with the many people who have given us all sorts of advice and general feedback.
It is important to make a distinction between ordinary advice and the advice of a mentor. The advice and words of a mentor carry much more weight and have a far-reaching impact on our lives in contrast to the continuous current of advice and comments that we are subjected to daily.
So, how do we determine whether to regard someone as a mentor? There are a few aspects which may be taken into consideration.
Mentors are partners who will assist us in solving problems. They are good at providing a sound board for those issues which we cannot seem to figure out ourselves. They can ask the questions which we need to ask to help us break down a complex problem in order to solve it.
Mentors give direction, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the individual to find his or her own way. Mentors can be tremendously helpful in providing possible options, but the decisions and choices are entirely up to each individual. The responsibility for the consequences of those decisions lies with each individual.
The best mentors are those who will challenge and push us to question our own assumptions, abilities and potential. A good mentor will encourage us to set our sights on higher goals; they will hold us accountable to reach these goals.
The greatest gift a mentor can bestow upon us, is the truth, even if it hurts. By telling the truth, mentors can help us to break out of self-limiting beliefs that might prevent us from making progress towards our goals.
Mentors give us courage to take action. The Chinese philosopher, Laozi, said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Mentors are often those who give us courage to take that first step or even leap into the unknown.
We do not have to know our mentors very well and we do not have to always agree with them. Mentors may give us direction, assist us to problem-solve an issue, challenge us and give us courage. Wherever our journey takes us, a good mentor never tries to claim credit for our successes, nor do they accept responsibility for our choices and defeats.
Ultimately it is important to realise that each of us needs to take responsibility for our own actions and choices and not to blame others at the end of the day.