“Your best friend is comfortable with your past; your mentor is comfortable with your future.”
Dr. Mike Murdock
Life is short. We simply don’t have enough time to learn everything we need to know all by ourselves.
And we don’t have enough stamina to learn everything the hard way… through trial and error. But that’s what ignorant people do. They give it a try to see if it works.
The really smart, successful people rely on O.P.E. — Other People’s Experience. They know they don’t have to go through colossal failure to learn a lesson. They can shorten their learning curve by accessing the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of others who have gone before them.
The really smart people have mentors or coaches. Look around. The top athletes continue to work with coaches. And the top business people seek out mentors. I know I do. For nine years I have met with eight of the finest speakers and consultants in the world — a group called Master Speakers International. And I can trace more personal and professional growth to that experience than anything else I have ever done.
What about you? Do you have a coach… or a mentor… or a group of such people? Do you consult with them regularly? It’s one of the secrets of every highly successful individual.
So let’s explore the role of a possible mentor in your life. But first you may wonder,
=> 1. Why do you need a mentor?
Because… no matter how well you know yourself, you’re always going to have blind spots. You’re going to miss some things that you should know — whether from oversight, ignorance, or bias.
If you don’t believe it, take this test. Look at a team photo that includes you. Does your liking of the photo depend on how good you look… no matter how everyone else looks? Of course. Even if the other people had their eyes closed or a piece of spinach in their teeth, if you looked good, you’d probably think it was a pretty good picture. You’re bound to be a bit prejudiced.
A mentor, on the other hand, would help you see the photo more objectively. He might ask, “Who’s the picture for? How’s it going to be used? And does that particular photo project the image of your team that you want to project?”
A mentor will help you discern the truth. But you ask,
=> 2. How is a mentor different than a teacher?
There are several differences. Teachers love learning. Mentors love learners. In other words, when you have a mentor, he or she cares about you… not just the stuff you’re learning. (And for the sake of clarity, I speak to a lot of classroom teachers, and many of them are both teachers and mentors. They’re professionals in every sense of the word, and they love their students.)
Such was the case years ago in a particular orphanage. Someone came in and asked, “Is there any orphan here that nobody wants?” The matron answered, “Indeed there is. She’s ten years old, ugly to look at and has a very horrible hunchback. In fact, the only decent thing about her is her name — Mercy Goodfaith.”
The inquirer was a mentor at heart and said, “That’s exactly the child I want.” And together they left.
Thirty-five years later, the head of the Orphanage Inspection Department in the State of Iowa turned in a report about another orphanage she visited. Her report said, “This home is outstanding. It is clean; the food is good, and the matron of the place has a soul that oozes love.”
The report went on to say, “All of the children are well-cared for and show the effects of the matron’s love. As they gathered at the piano following dinner, I observed an atmosphere unlike any I have seen in my work. Never have I seen such love and beauty as I saw in that matron. She was so stunning that I almost forgot how homely her face was and how unattractive was the hunchback. Her name is Mercy Goodfaith.”
Because some nameless person chose to love and mentor an ugly orphan, Mercy Goodfaith learned how to love… and she passed it on to others. And that by the way is another factor that distinguishes teachers from mentors. Teachers hope you get what they are teaching, but mentors want you to absorb it and then share it.
Mentors go beyond education to impartation. And mentors take you beyond learning to sowing.
Now if that sounds too soft and touchy-feely for you, hang on. Mentors also put correction and challenge into your path. So,
=> 3. How does a mentor approach the whole topic of advice?
It’s worth looking at. After all, mentors are more than cheerleaders. They do more than confirm what you are doing correctly. They CORRECT the mistakes you’ve made and prevent you from making more mistakes in the future.
You might call such behavior advice giving. I would call it counsel. Advice giving may be no more than telling a person what to do in a particular situation, whereas counsel gives people some things to think about as they decide the best way to proceed.
It’s the difference between giving a person a fish and teaching him how to fish. The advice or the fish may take care of today’s needs, but for an overall, long term, effective approach to life and work, you’ve got to learn how to catch fish for yourself. And a good mentor will show you how to do that.
Of course a good mentee will listen to his mentor’s counsel. He’ll sift through it to find the pearls of wisdom. It’s the ignorant ones who simply accept or reject everything they hear. As one person said, “There are two quick ways to disaster — taking nobody’s advice and taking everybody’s advice.”
One of the quickest ways to achieve excellence, to be effective, and experience success is to spend some regular time with a wise mentor. I know it works for me, and it has worked for millions. In fact, one of my former professors, indeed one of the best professors I ever had, Dr. Sidney Simon, is now my mentor. We still walk the beaches of Sanibel Island just about every month at 6:30 in the morning as I continue to learn from him. And I’ve been meeting with friend and business owner, Jeff Larson, for prayer and counsel every week for 18 years.
If you don’t have a mentor, get one. And don’t worry about imposing on him or her. Just ask if they would serve in that capacity, and they’ll give you a straight answer. In fact, even if they say “no,” they’ll be honored that you asked. We all admire the wisdom of those who come to us for advice.
Action: Who has been the most helpful mentor in your life so far? How did he/she help you? And in what areas of your life would you like some additional mentoring? Be on the lookout for such a mentor.