As I journey down this new path of life, one filled with personal and professional decisions I’m expected to make, I find myself longing for someone to go to. Specifically, I wish I had a mentor.
Fathers and brothers will always have their place in men’s hearts for guidance, but a mentor is something altogether different. In theory, a mentor shouldn’t be too difficult to find. People love to give advice, especially men. In some ways, we have some strange notion that we’re passing along all of our wisdom. In truth, we probably are and the whole concept isn't so strange after all.
Yet I look around, with much ambition and confusion in my heart, and find no one. It’s an empty feeling, and I wondered if I was alone in this desire.
So I polled roughly a dozen men that I consider thoughtful, intelligent, and introspective. In order to keep some sort of semblance to my completely non-scientific poll, I asked men of differing backgrounds, rather than just the creative circles I usually find myself confined to. These men were all between the ages of 28-45, and I put it to them simply (mostly out of fear of looking lame).
“Do you have a mentor? A simple yes or no will suffice, but if you wish to elaborate on how a mentor has or has not affected your life, please feel free…”
I fully expected to get one word answers. Instead, I got many carefully considered answers from almost all the men. It was quickly obvious that my question had unearthed some serious conflicts within these men of integrity.
One thing was clear, I was not alone. Most of the men didn’t have mentors, and those that did extolled on the virtues of that relationship. It was something they cherished and were incredibly thankful for. This only added to my desire to have a mentor, even though at this age it’s most likely impossible.
This is in some ways, part of the problem. The age. By the age of 30, society expects us to be men. To be A MAN. Whatever that means exactly. And in our never-ending efforts to either prove our Fathers wrong or right about their convictions concerning us, we lose focus on what it means to be a man.
Many men think asking for advice or guidance is a sign of weakness. The fact that it’s probably the absolute opposite doesn’t occur to us. We’re doing busy trying to be A MAN, and do manly things. Part of being A MAN is the ability to make decisions without the aid of others. For reference sake, use driving directions as an example. See my point…
It isn’t to say that the absence of a mentor is all negative. Indeed, I agreed with several men who said that specifically not having a mentor led them to increased knowledge on all matters in life. They were forced to make decisions on their own through an endless trial and error period. I personally have felt this as well. But, like every man that made it on their own, it didn’t dissuade my feelings that I do wish I had a true mentor. Everyone said the same thing.
Without certain baseball coach or acting professors, I would never have become the man I am today. Whether that’s a positive or negative thing is all a matter of perspective. Nonetheless, at some point the teachers disappeared.
Why the abundance of male mentors seems to be non-existent is beyond me. Looking back on the years, it’s so visibly evident to me how useful these relationships are to men. And quite frankly, no matter what your age, every man could use one. My brother is a fairly successful business man with a doting family and a slew of employees that report to him. He’s respected and admired. Yet I have no doubt he wishes there was someone older he could go to when life presents you with two polarizing paths to traverse. Maybe he has one, I don’t know. It’s simply one example.
In my field, it’s near-impossible due to professional envy and paranoia. Believe me, I wish I could ring up a working writer in a similar field and go to them for advice. But I know that’s highly unlikely, if for nothing else than I’ve been down that road before. When I first started writing screenplays, I had a few friendships I might have considered akin to a mentor-student relationship. I had a lot of heart, but structure and format were not my allies in writing. These men had written for years, though with the same results as I had. Namely, still aspiring rather than not. As I worked on my craft, I got better and eventually received some recognition within the industry. When that happened, the dynamic of the relationship changed, much to my chagrin.
I wonder how often this occurs in other avenues of life. I suppose it all comes down to the individuals involved. I have a few younger friends in my life, and I’m always held those friendships close. I don’t know if I’m their mentor, but I sure know that I measure my advice to them with extra consideration. I take personal pride when they achieve professional feats, or simply when they become good people. Don’t misinterpret, I’m not saying that I’m guiding them in any way; only in that I may have helped.
This is another issue with developing mentor relations as you get older- many men don’t take too kindly to receiving advice from the wrong person. I certainly know that someone giving me advice on writing better damn well have a background in it. That might be incredibly narrow-minded, but I think most men feel this way.
But really, having a mentor has just as much to do with life decisions as it does career. Sure, Obi-Wan Kenobi taught Luke the ways of the force and how to become a Jedi, but he also aided Luke in understanding life’s deeper problems. Luke had to face his Father in order to become a man, and so it was that Obi-Wan gently discussed how to do so.
I know there are men of wonderful virtues who read this page, and I would urge you to help your younger cohorts reach their potential, both personally and professionally. I had a really close friend once who didn’t comprehend the few friendships I had with those 4-5 years younger then me. He used to say, “I don’t know why your friends with Junior, there’s nothing you can learn from him.” I found this not only utterly false, but sad. Because despite his statement, this close friend was a perfect example of someone who could have been a wonderful mentor to someone out there struggling to navigate all the obstacles life throws at you. Instead, he chose otherwise.
If you have a similar mindset as to this close friend, I challenge you to reconsider. I hear a lot of people talking about how lousy the world is becoming. How dreadful everyone is to each other. I certainly understand why you’d think this. But something as basic as helping out a like-minded younger individual can go a long way. Think of what you’d say to the 20 year old version of yourself, and how helpful that would have been to hear.
Because if we don’t guide and help those we see in need of it, then mentors won’t be an endangered species.
They’ll be extinct.