Do You Have a Mentor?

I pride myself on being pretty independent minded, and I like to think that this trait has developed nicely over the decades.

But when I’m stuck, really stuck, I often cast about for someone or something to say simply: “Take this step next.” Or, “you’re wrong, he’s right, deal with it.” Bad as I am at dealing with authority, sometimes an authority is exactly what I want. Just for a second.

Ideally we all have someone to play that role now and then, just for a second. Someone who stops being neutral and humble and “oh I’m sure you know best” long enough to tell you something that gets you unstuck.

Tons of (now faceless) people told me as a young person to be realistic and have a Plan B, but it was the one who said things like “Somebody has to write the books” that I remember. I think the best advice my dissertation advisor gave me, and I don’t even remember what it was in reference to, was “Aww, fuck ’em.” That one is truly multipurpose.

The thing about growing up and finding a little success is that your mentor pool gets smaller. Everyone likes to give advice to cute college girls.

For now, most of my mentors are in books. Sometimes it’s an author, like Anne Lamott. Often it’s a character, like Anne Elliot or Esther Summerson or Propsero or Granny Weatherwax.

As you might guess, most often I want a mentor to help me figure out how to deal with difficult people, to be the calm center of the storm. I want mentors for taking charge, and for letting go. I want mentors for practical creativity that isn’t sappy or mystical, but sharp-edged and real.

Who have your mentors been? Who would you choose as a mentor now? What do you want mentors for?

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About mina

Like a rock: sometimes hard, sometimes crumbly, occasionally brilliant, sometimes dense.

Posted on July 20, 2011, in advice, inspiration, questions, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I have never had a mentor. The closest I got was with the teachers who let me opt out of classes because I was bored and unchallenged. Not exactly active mentoring! I guess I have always turned to books for that kind of thing. Funny, I would cite the same women as you – Anne Elliot and Granny Weatherwax! Especially the latter. She is a wise and guiding voice in my head, and I’m so very sad to see how Terry Pratchett’s writing has changed as his sickness encroaches. 😦

    • I haven’t yet read I Shall Wear Midnight. I will, I know, but I am a little nervous about it. I do love Anne Elliot, but I’m not much of an ingenue anymore. 😉

  2. I could use a few but they’re hard to find. I end up mentoring a lot more than vice versa.

    When I really got terrified I could not possibly do the huge revisions required for my new, second NF book, (now out with some terrific reviews), I emailed a wise friend, a fellow journo/author: “You’re the mechanic. Fix the engine,” he said.

    Smart, wise, compassionate butt-kick. That’s my kind of mentor!

    • Yes, exactly! I was just saying to my husband that I am more often in the role of mentor to others, and that I have to be my own mentor. Which is cool and all—as one of my fictional mentors would point out, you don’t call for help when you *are* the help— but a word to the wise wouldn’t hurt just now and then.

      Well done on the 2nd book — looks very good.

  3. My BFF is always a brutally honest sounding board as is my husband whenever I get stuck in life, but I do get a lot of guidance from non-fictional and fictional characters as well.

  4. I had to think on this. I’ve had mentors but never in a consistent or formal way. Like Kato I think I have more sounding boards than actual mentors these days. Part of that is because I have my hand in too many projects with diverging trajectories. I think if I could regain some control and just pick one of two projects I might be able to use a mentor well.

    • What I like from friends, mostly, is affirmation. Which is mostly what I think a person needs: “You’ve got this. You can handle this. Off you go.” I feel like that’s what I get from sounding boards.

      (Assuming the affirmation is true — if I were talking to my friends about dumping my family and joining the circus I sure would appreciate a judicious “WTF, Bitch?!” So consider that permission should the occasion arise.)

      I think a mentor is someone who gives you a “you’ve got this” *and* some expert, BTDT insight. But sometimes BTDT is hard to find.

  5. I don’t have a real mentor, but various people, friends and acquaintances, have mentored me through specific events and issues in my life. Oft times the people don’t even know how what they have said or done has inspired me.

    Fictional mentors are too numerous to cite. But recently I am reading a non-fiction book about creativity called Spark and I am inspired and mentored by the life stories of the people in that book.

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