Why we all need mentors if we want to be great

Why we need mentors

We all know the saying ’practice makes perfect’. But how do we know what to practice, how to practice and how to best spend our time? We can gain a strategic edge with mentors and mentorship; someone who has been in our shoes and knows the right course of action. 

“Mentoring, is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”
John C. Crosby

I had first heard of him from a guitarist at a Jazz masterclass I attended. I was flawed by the way this guitarist played and HAD to ask how he learned so much cool Jazz language on the guitar. His answer. Steve McKenna.

“He’s an asshole” he said, “but he’ll give you a lot of worksheets and is a great player.”

I’ll admit. I didn’t run to get lessons straight away because I thought that I could work hard, watch some YouTube lessons, and then practice until it all made sense.

This approach had worked in the past, but Jazz music had absolutely kicked my butt. I couldn’t understand it, I didn’t know what I was hearing and I knew I couldn’t play it.

Being the control freak that I am, this was something that gnawed at me until I finally bit the bullet and forked out $260 for one month of Jazz lessons with Steve.

“I actually take really long to learn things, I worked my ass off to be able to play the things I’m showing you.”
Steve McKenna

It’s ironic looking back, since I actually didn’t do much playing during my lessons at all. I mostly watched Steve and just listened to him.
My practice was my own responsibility, and I was there to be a sponge and absorb 40 years of experience and genius.

Steve simplified the jazz language for me and allowed me to get to the core of what I was playing, why I was playing it and how I was going to approach it.

Why Should We all Seek out Mentors?

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Mark Twain

In history, mentorship has been the most efficient way to pass on knowledge and personal experience to an apprentice. we are all part of a highly globalised and interconnected network of communication, where so many people seem to value knowledge consumption instead of skill mastery. Mentors help you with skill mastery. 

My favourite definition of mentorship from Dictionary.com is: “a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher.”

Let’s deconstruct this for a second.

  1. Wise
    The mentor must have significant past experience and proficiency in order to obtain wisdom through knowledge and practice of a specialised skill or skill set.
  2. Trusted
    The mentor must be trusted based on reputability in their body of work or have an investment in the well-being of the student they are mentoring.
  3. Counsellor or Teacher
    The mentor must distill their knowledge and experience and formulate a proposition of best practices that is uniquely for the student they are mentoring. The information must be relatable, respectable, integral, empathic and easily understood

The relationship of a mentor is deeply personal. This means that a mentor will reprimand you if you sell yourself short. A mentor will tear you to pieces and push you to your upper limit in order to build you back up in a more robust make-up. A mentor will see your intentions and feed your growth. You don’t have a mentor if you only interact through facebook messenger or skype every so often.

What Mentors can expect from us

Let’s state the obvious; our mentors owe us nothing.

They shouldn’t have to go the extra mile for us just because we believe we are worth it or deserve it. Mentors expect us to chase them, we need to prove that we are worthy of their time and knowledge.

You need to qualify yourself and understand your purpose before trying to find a mentor and get him to tell you everything. Mentors expect you to shut up and absorb and they will see if you are genuinely there to learn by how responsive you are.

By going to a mentor, we are acknowledging that we have areas that we can’t address by ourselves and we need external help. Paying tutor to come every week doesn’t make them a mentor. Choose your mentors like how you would choose a new employee to represent your company.

A bad mentor can do extensive damage to a vulnerable and malleable mind. I paid Steve to be my guitar teacher, then I adopted him as my mentor after I qualified him as someone who could invest an immense amount of wisdom and knowledge in me if I could prove myself as being worthy and willing to put in the work.

Choose your mentors like how you would choose a new employee to represent your company. A bad mentor can do terrible damage to a vulnerable and malleable mind.

In my case, I paid Steve to be my guitar teacher, then I adopted him as my mentor after I saw him as someone who could invest an immense amount of wisdom and knowledge in me.

However, I had to prove myself as being worthy of his time by being willing to put in the hard work.

Who could change your life right now?

My challenge to you and myself is to seek out mentors in diverse areas of your life. You’ll be surprised that you may not have to look far and hard. Your parents or even your close friend may have the answers and the guidance that you are seeking. Realise your goals and qualify the right mentor because they will have an immense effect on what kind of artist, musician, business person you become.

Examples of great mentors:

Warren Buffett had Benjamin Graham, Arnold Schwarzenegger had Joe Weider, Mile Davis had Clark Terry, Steve Jobs had Bob Noyce, Barack Obama had Frank Marshall Davis. Martin Luther King had Benjamin Mays.

History shows that we don’t succeed on our own strength and skills alone. Our own skill set will only get us so far, and in order to go further, we need help from a trusted source; mentors. We need input from mentors in order to sustain our progress in any given field.

Mentors have done it all before. They will save us incredible time and sorrow because they know what does and doesn’t work. They have the knowledge and experience that we crave and need to catapult us forward.

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