The Mentor Myth

The Mentor Myth

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” How many times have you heard this clever little quote? (Some have attributed it to Buddha – which is patently incorrect – and others have attributed it to some early 20th century Theosophists – much more likely.)

If you’re like me and you’ve read (or listened to) any number greater than three of “self-help” (I prefer the term “personal development” as Jim Rohn often labeled this category because “self-help” sounds so damn needy) books…or watched any of the many “motivational speaker” videos on YouTube, then you’ve probably heard a number of these authors/speakers regurgitate this quote and follow it up with some urgent insistence that you go out and get yourself a mentor ASAP! Whatever is ailing you – chronic poverty, spiritual apathy, obesity, lack of confidence, etc. – there is a mentor out there in the world ready to take you under her wing and guide you to the Promised Land where all your issues will simply be an unpleasant memory because, like you, she’s been where you were and she knows the way out of your mess.

Not only does she have the map to the Promised Land but she’s also out there looking to “pay it forward” by finding another wayward soul just like yourself and she’s ready to spend as much of her precious time with you as you may need to benefit from her wisdom! I’m probably being a bit hyperbolic here but not by much.

I won’t go so far as to say that mentors don’t exist but the mentors described by some self-help gurus almost certainly do NOT exist and if they do, then they are about as rare as the winning Powerball ticket! (Odds of winning the jackpot: 1 in 292,201,338!!!)

I say all this because the allure of mentors – and in particular, “mythical mentors” – would lead many to believe that you can’t make it to the Promised Land of great health, great wealth and/or great spirituality without a mentor by your side…if not leading the way for you!

Indeed, many would use not having a mentor as an excuse for not beginning the journey that they know they need to begin for themselves to change their lives…a sort of real life version of “Waiting for Godot.”

I’m not saying that there will not be people out there who are willing to help you on your journey by teaching you a few things (perhaps a great many things), providing advice or simply offering a bit of encouragement but what I am saying is that if you’re waiting for “Godot”, i.e., the “mythical mentor”, then you need to get yourself off that “bus to nowhere” because until you do you won’t be going anywhere…let alone your chosen Promised Land!

Perhaps all this sounds a bit harsh and it is clearly just my opinion (although, James Altucher published a great article called “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Reinventing Yourself” where he discusses the “three types of mentors”…two of which are not people at all) but I have some alternatives to the “mythical mentor” that I would like to suggest you spend a little time with:

  • The written word! Books (I include audio books in this category and they are especially great when you can hear the author read her own book), online articles, traditional print magazines (don’t laugh but the “Costco Connection” is an awesome resource for entrepreneurs), product white papers, and so on.
  • YouTube! You knew this one was coming, right? (It still seems odd to me to call YouTube the “2nd largest search engine” because the “number 1 search engine” is Google and they in turn, of course, own YouTube…but I digress.) I could broaden this category to “online videos” in general because Ted.com, the various media outlets, etc., are also rich sources for personal development videos on the web but YouTube is just so damn ubiquitous! Seriously…if you can’t find a topic on YouTube, then it doesn’t exist! Sure, there’s a lot of content on YouTube that comes from the “unwashed masses” but there is a ton of valuable content on YouTube as well.
  • Yo’ momma! Okay, I probably should have said something like “your parents” here but where would the fun be in that? But seriously…your family and in particular your “parental units” really can be a source of mentorship…assuming, of course, that they are not also the cause of your huge therapy bills! The other potential pitfall of familial/parental mentorship, though, is that family may also (unconsciously or otherwise) throw up road blocks on your chosen path to the Promised Land. Basically, your “mileage may vary” with familial mentorship.
  • The odd conversation that you overhear while waiting for your plane in the airport terminal! Okay, this one may sound like a stretch but I have found that airports are a nexus point for people of all cultures, backgrounds and social status. The next time you’re at the airport waiting for your plane keep your ears OPEN but don’t LOOK like you’re keeping your ears open because nobody wants to be spied on!
  • Paid mentors! I’m not so much thinking about the “life coaching” types here…rather, I’m thinking about your CPA/tax preparer, attorney, doctor, personal trainer, hair stylist, financial planner, nutritionist, banker, real estate broker, etc. These are people that you pay in one way or another (if only occasionally) to offer you guidance and wisdom on a particular topic. Yes, these types of mentors are of course going to be biased either by the fact that you pay them or by their given profession (or by both) but if you know that going in, then you can account for that bias before acting on said paid mentor’s advice.

These are just a few ideas…I’m sure that you can (and in fact SHOULD) come up with your own ideas.

Bottom line: Do NOT wait for the “mythical mentor” to start making the changes in your life that you wish to make because you will wait yourself right out of your life. Replace “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” with “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

Full disclosure: I LOVE a number of these “life coaches” including, Robert Kiyosaki, Jim Rohn, Mike Summey, Tony Robbins, Grant Cardone, Tai Lopez, Phil Pustejovsky, Brandon Turner, Peter Drucker, Russell Simmons, Simon Sinek, Gary Keller, etc.

When Danny is NOT busy “watching underwater basket weaving videos on YouTube”, he’s also leading a technology consulting company. Hit him on Twitter or Facebook.

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