I’ve heard it said that a mentor is someone whose mistakes you learn from, saving you some frustration on your professional journey. He or she shares knowledge and experience to help you negotiate your way up the professional ladder.
Platform and leadership guru, Michael Hyatt, refers to himself as a “virtual mentor,” providing information and instruction through his blog, podcast, courses, and his online education program, Platform University. Everything that he has learned in building his business, he shares with his customers.
Generous Art, brainchild of artist Jennifer Chenoweth, mentors artists at all stages of their careers. Through their program, Raising Artists, they offer one-one-one mentorships and workshops focusing on different aspects of building a career in the visual arts. In an art world that offers little pragmatic advice, Generous Art nurtures artists as they move beyond their studio and into the world of exhibitions and funding.
When I interviewed Aralyn Hughes for Creative Mix (coming next week), we spoke about her mentors and role models. She mentioned public figures who served as feminist role models in the 1960s, women like Gloria Steinhem and Angela Davis, but equally as important personal mentors, women who took the time to help her steer her life in the right direction.
When she was younger, Aralyn was married to a military man and living in a community with other military families. Watching women raising their children while their husbands were on assignment elsewhere, seeing how exhausted they were and frustrated, she questioned whether or not she should have children. She shared her conflict with an older woman in the group.
“I have to make this decision,” Aralyn told her friend, “and it has to be right. I can’t make a mistake. There’s no going back. And so I really need you, because everybody I talk to says, ‘Oh, children are so great, I would have had ten if I could. Childbirth is easy. Don’t worry about that.’ You hear all these things about how wonderful everything is, but that’s not what I see. You have to tell me the truth.”
“I have four children,” said the older woman. “And I would lay down on train tracks to save them. But if I had to do it over again, I don’t know. Live your life. You’ve got so many things you want to do, and it will not serve you to have children. There are all kinds of ways to be a nurturing, caring woman in this world with other people’s children as you have with mine, and there are many others, and plenty who don’t have anybody to care about them. So don’t worry about that.”
A few things struck me about this conversation:
First, we should all be lucky enough to have someone remind us that motherhood is a choice. My mother never hid how difficult parenting was and told me repeatedly I did not have to have children. I made the leap out of a deep desire to raise a child, but I never felt obligated or like I would be less womanly if I wasn’t a mother. Nor did I feel any guilt at stopping after one. Other women feel more pressure. (You can order Aralyn’s indie anthology, Kid Me Not, on Amazon.)
Second, her friend’s response reminded me what a true mentor can do. A true mentor sees you, and not only gives you the benefit of her experience, she teaches you how to trust yourself. More than anything else, I learned from Natalie Goldberg how to trust myself. Of course that came out of deep work — years of meditation and writing and digesting her wisdom. But she never said, “My way is the only way.” She taught us what she knew, but told us, “Everyone finds their own way.” It’s harder than the step by step instruction of how to succeed in the world, but it was everything.
Aralyn has developed her own method of mentoring through storytelling. I hope her interview will inspire you as it did me. I’ll have it up on the website next week.
As mentor and guide for The Heroine’s Journey, I offer my perspective during our weekly Facebook sharing and online meetings. I hope my students benefit from my experience and mistakes, but it’s the writing and deep inquiry that reveal a woman’s path and her direction. You know what you want. You know what calls you. I offer a process for rediscovery, as well as a few tools to get going.
Who are your mentors and how have they guided you? I’d love to know.