I attribute all of my success so far in life to the influence of the incredible mentors I’ve had and have. My mentors have made me who I am and patiently guided me along the path to their skills even when I was an impossible student or learning frustratingly slow. I wish for everyone to have amazing guides…
I am sometimes asked how to find a good mentor so I am composing some thoughts.
I should first differentiate between the role of a mentor and someone from whom you learn. Truth is, we can learn something from everyone. But, a mentor is someone whom you specifically follow to learn a skill.
In America, it has become easy to become an expert/guru at anything simply by stating so on the internet…and using sleek marketing to draw people in. It can be easy to be sucked in by the flash, glamour, and “everyone else is doing it” pressures.
Just because someone claims to be good at something and is on TV, has countless Facebook likes, is a NYT Best Selling Author, or has many, many followers does not mean that person is an expert. Sad, but true. (That is, unless of course, what you are wanting to learn is how to increase your Facebook exposure or how to become a published author.)
Be cautious of those who say they are experts. If someone is marketing him or herself as an expert, chances are they haven’t accomplished much more than convincing you to pay them for their “expertise.” Most of the best mentors out there do not do much self promotion as they would rather convey rather than say. Now, there are exceptions; my friend Bill Walsh is a well known business coach with quite a lot to offer but Bill has proven himself as an extraordinary entrepreneur several times over.
A business coach who has made his or her career being a business coach is generally worth about as much as a business professor who has made his or her career academically professing. Promoting yourself as a guru is a relatively new concept in human history, having really been fueled by the advent of the internet.
Insist on someone with real, in the field, tried and true results. If he or she hasn’t been through all the challenges in their own life, how in the world is he or she going to guide you through your challenges to your success?
So, let’s look at how to distinguish the difference.
Whether you are looking for a spiritual mentor, a business mentor, a music mentor, or a personal trainer, certain common threads apply:
1. Put out to the universe that you want a mentor and make room in your life for what it will take to accommodate having one. Hint: You’re going to have to challenge certain aspects of yourself but that’s part of the trip to growth and change. It’s not all going to be fun; parts of it will seem impossible, but there is no other way to expand your comfort zone, paradigm, and skillset without, well, expanding past your barriers and limitations.
2. Look for someone who is incredibly and truly skilled at what you seek to learn from him or her. Ask around through your network and be discriminating. Don’t run to the closest neighborhood place because it’s convenient. The best teacher for you may not be in your neighborhood, or even in your country.
I have surrounded myself with people who are so far ahead of me in their skill that it’s unlikely I can ever reach their level. I insist on only learning from the best of the best and I have to travel great distances to do so. As an example, when I was a paramedic student, my classmates were learning from other paramedics while I was arranging to spend 100s of hours with doctors in the ER and OR.
*Note: Many are envious of those who are more successful than they are and sometimes even attack or try to shoot that person down out of insecurity around their own shortcomings. Avoid this tendency. Jump at the opportunity to be around someone at a much higher level than you.
Manu, my parkours mentor, demonstrates his skill. You can see just how skilled he is by how he carries himself and how flawless, smooth, and unified his movement is in this simple demo. He is having fun while casually executing these movements which have become as natural to him as walking.
Note that I chose a simple demo so I could point out the qualities of naturalness that a true wizard embodies. Their mastery is evident in the way they make things appear so simple and graceful and that mastery becomes integrated into their being.
3. Look at this person’s background. What has he or she really accomplished beyond convincing you that he or she is an expert? If a “financial psychic’s” only accomplishment is convincing people to pay him or her loads of money for financial advice; guess what: He or she probably is not legitimate.
Note that sadly degrees and certifications may not be an indicator of skill. Again, look more deeply at this person’s results.
4. Look at this person’s personality. Are they humble? Humility is hallmark of true wizards. Humility in this context does not mean false modesty, lack of confidence, or weakness. A humble mentor is one who carries him or herself in a way that conveys said person is continuing to learn and grown. In other words, they aren’t coming off as the one who knows it all.
5. Is this person willing to invest in you? And what can you offer in return? A mentor-student relationship is one where an agreement is made, on some level, for the teacher to teach and the student to learn. The best mentors will likely look to you to convince him or her to teach you so don’t expect that person to chase you.Karate Kid did get it right with wax on/wax off. Are you willing to follow this person’s advice even when it seems absurd? If not, he or she is probably not the mentor you need.
6. Commit to reaching certain goals and don’t let anything get in your way. In the old days, people learned skills through apprenticeship. That model has been thrown away in favor of slickly packaged courses, programs, memberships, etc. But, the truth is, a mentor is one who knows how to individualize the lessons to what YOU need. It’s not popular to learn in that manner anymore but it is a superior method.
7. Don’t expect compliments in the beginning as the best teachers are not there to stroke your ego. But do be prepared to be pushed as your mentor will know when and how far to push you.
One of my teachers explained to me why he refused to answer questions from students in their first few years of training. He said in the beginning their questions are like kindergarten however after a few years of practice, questions become more like graduate school.
Additional advice for spiritual mentors and life coaches
When looking for a life coach or spiritual mentor, it’s very important to ask yourself
“Is this someone whose life I want to emulate, absorb, and model?”
This is very very important because you’re going to absorb some of your teacher’s energy and personality. If you are looking for someone to help you improve your life, their life better be in order.
I remember a time when a friend called me and said “DJ I’m going to be a life coach. I got certified this weekend.”
My response: “A life coach, huh? Don’t you need a life first?”
It’s mind boggling how many life coaches and spiritual “wizards” are popping up these days. It’s easy to be confused by them and results in the blind leading the blind dynamic.
One thing to look for is:
Who was your teacher’s teacher?
When it comes to my spiritual interests, my teachers had masters whose great-great grandfathers had masters whose great great great grandfathers had masters…
This is very very important and you should insist on nothing less than absolute authenticity. YOU deserve that and you must believe that you are worthy of the very best. And, you must also put your ego entirely aside and allow this person, who is far ahead of you on the path, to guide you. There is no other way.
So there you have it – A few simple pieces of advice on mentors. Happy to answer questions directly here or by private message.