This year I had the opportunity to mentor a student from my alma mater – Victoria University in Wellington. It’s been such an awesome experience! Here’s what I’ve been learning about listening, dreaming big, walking my talk and challenging scarcity culture.
I’ve been mentored multiple times in my life, both formally and informally, and I’ve always benefited from the experience.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil
Mentoring is that generous attention in action.
In the last few years I’ve begun to look for opportunities to become a mentor, so when I saw that Victoria University in Wellington – where I did my undergraduate study – had openings in their alumni as mentors program, I enthusiastically signed up.
For the first time, I would be a MENTOR rather than a MENTEE, and I was SO excited!
A suitable mentee was assigned to me (a third year student studying theatre and film) and we began the process.
Mentoring lesson 1: Listen up
On the surface, it’s easy to assume that mentoring is about an older, more experienced person giving advice to someone younger and greener about the industry they both work within.
However my experience as a mentee showed me that it’s really the MENTEE who leads the process. It’s THEIR goals and dreams that shape the dynamic.
Therefore, as a mentor, my job was more about paying attention, listening and encouraging.
To be a good mentor, you have to resist the urge to just tell your mentee everything you wish you’d been told. Very rarely do we retain information that way – even if it’s useful.
“Some things cannot be taught; they must be experienced. You never learn the most valuable lessons in life until you go through your own journey.”Roy T Bennett
This was a wonderful thing to remain aware of. It meant I could surrender to being led by my mentee. If she has questions for me, I try my best to answer them, but in order to truly be of service to her I have to let go of the need to share everything all at once.
I’m the kind of person who will cheerlead zealously for the people I believe in.
My sister is an excellent example, this year I even went so far as creating a website for her birthday (click here to check it out).
I get MASSIVE thrills from watching people take leaps of faith towards something they’ve always wanted to do.
So you can imagine how thrilling I found it to support and encourage my mentee as she took those first big steps towards her dream of acting. Which leads perfectly to…
Mentoring lesson 2: Encourage expansive thinking
Mentoring is a brilliant chance to encourage expansive and imaginative thinking.
This was a particularly unique challenge in this constricted year. But if anything, it felt MORE important to encourage the exploring and owning of my mentees biggest and wildest dreams. Why minimise or shrink our desires?
I’m not saying we should live in our fantasies, but so many of us make the mistake of not naming our big dreams, and then wondering years later why we’re not where we hoped we’d be.
“You have a responsibility to protect your enthusiasm.”Rha Goddess
Encouraging your mentee to own and express their biggest dreams is an important first step, and a joyful one. It also lays a clear foundation for what to do next.
Mentoring lesson number 3: Take your own advice
Sometimes when supporting my mentee, I would hear myself speak and think – yeah I need to hear that as well.
Mentoring made me reflective about my own journey thus far. As a mentor it’s easy to allow the ego to trick us into thinking that ‘mentor’ equals ‘expert’. When I look back at where I’ve been and then look at where I am, I can see that I’ve made progress. But that includes major mistakes and failures, both personally and professionally.
If you’re anything like me, you find it far easier to encourage someone else to dream big and go for it, then to encourage yourself to.
Mentoring makes you realise that in order to be a good role model for your mentee, you have to walk your talk.
Whilst uncomfortable at times, this realisation helped me to view my mentee almost like my peer.
This makes me think about a concept in yoga called ‘Beginner’s Mind’. Adriene of Yoga with Adriene says this about Beginner’s mind:
“Beginner’s Mind. A zen like place where you don’t know all the answers and you don’t have to! You trust and enjoy the ride. It’s about dropping all preconceptions and opening yourself up to all of YOUR possibilities.”Adriene Mishler
This life is a constantly unfolding process, and I’m often either learning a new lesson or relearning an old one.
Mentoring lesson number 4: Challenge scarcity culture
Mentoring is a wonderful way to ‘pay it forward’. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a few mentors, and the effects they had on me was invaluable. So it felt fricking awesome to do that for someone else.
It’s easy to get caught in a scarcity mindset when you work in creative industries. So mentoring is like a balm for competitiveness, comparison and envy.
Instead of seeing other actors as competition, through the simple act of mentoring I’m reminding myself that other actors are my peers, my future collaborators, perhaps even wonderful new friends!
I’ve written previously about my love of actors and their spiritual ways (read that blog here)
Through mentoring, I’m actively cultivating relationships with actors that are based on the belief that we’re on the SAME TEAM.
I’m a big fan of Shine Theory (created by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman). I’ve learnt the hard way how damaging jealousy can be to relationships. To quote a section of their definition:
“Shine Theory is a commitment to asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?” The answer is almost always yes.”
Ultimately, mentoring is a brilliant way to support and encourage someone else, whilst also learning a great deal about yourself.
If mentoring interests you, I highly recommend you get in touch with whatever university or tertiary institute you graduated from to find out if there’s any way you can offer yourself as a mentor. Alternatively, you could ask around to find out if there are any organisations or mentoring programs that you might be suited to.
I bet there’s a young creative somewhere out there who’d love to speak with you!