On Finding a Mentor

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When you read stories and watch movies, you'd see that successful people usually have someone who guides them along the right path, teaching them the ways and the means from a young age.

  • It could be an orphan with nowhere to go, and finally stumbling into a cobbler's footsteps and finding a parent in the shoemaker.
  • Or, it could be a young princess taking lessons from an old wizard, growing older together in search of knowledge. 

Those examples sound cliche because they are. Sure, they may happen in real life. But seriously speaking, it's not as easy as it sounds to find a mentor. And it is/was the same for me. 

I have been exploring lettering and calligraphy for the past 3 years, and I've constantly been bothered about why I don't have someone whom I can call a mentor. Most of the seniors I know are all into business or the sciences and I have no one to turn to when it came to the arts. 

Who or what is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who can guide you, and be honest about things. S/he is a teacher who shows you the right way of doing things, and whom you can confide in. S/he does not have to know everything, but they have to know enough to give you sound advice and for you to look up to or respect. 

Unlike the more established teacher-student relationship, a mentor can come in all shapes and sizes and does not have to be present all the time. Wait, what? Yes. A mentor does not have to conform to conventional notions. S/he may already be there without you noticing it. 

Hello! Are you my mentor?

In my case, I could not one that fit the conventional mold, and found my mentors elsewhere. If I have to cluster them, here are the 'categories' where they fit.

Workshop Instructors

I am mostly self-taught. I still teach myself through videos and reading books, but I believe that in order to validate what I know, I needed to look for more experienced professionals to tell me that I'm doing the right thing. And so this is why I attended some workshops both online and in-person.

During the class, they demonstrate their methods and share their perspectives. You also get to do some hands-on practice where the teachers can correct your mistakes as you go. Workshop instructors can be your mentors. 

Online and Offline Communities

I have joined different groups like Seanwes, or The Designers League where like-minded creatives unabashedly share their struggles and humbly ask for guidance, and where the community comes together to offer advice and support. These types of groups are few and far between.

Most of the groups I've seen and been part of online focus on sharing and amassing likes. This is not how healthy learning works. It's better to find a small community that offers real feedback and real relationships. These healthy communities can be your (non-traditional) mentors.

Existing Friends (and their friends in a similar industry)

I found that what chained me was my perverse introversion and compulsive desire for self-sufficiency. I was afraid to reach out to people (even my friends) for help, which is totally unhealthy. But recently, that changed when I met closely-knit collectives who are not afraid of sharing and caring. 

So, to live better, forge healthy relationships where give and take is respected. Don't be afraid to ask, because if you don't ask you may not receive it. Of course, ask within good reason. Your friends and their network could be your mentors. 

When you are ready, your mentor will appear.

I found that this quote was particularly apt for me. 

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready... The teacher will Disappear.” - Lao Tzu

Don't fret if you have not found the right one (like in any relationship). Focus on getting better by yourself, and focus on forging authentic relationships. Likes for likes, and follows for follows should be kept aside. Finding a mentor is not about numbers. When you are ready to receive the right instruction, the right mentor will come. 

Nathaniel OngComment