The broad and basic definition of a mentor is “one who is an experienced and trusted advisor”. The more formal definition of mentorship is “the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company, or educational institute”. Throughout history, there have been various other names for a mentor. In law enforcement, a mentor is called a Rabbi. This would be an experienced officer who guides a young rookie through the ins and outs of being part of a law enforcement agency. In the religious community, a mentor is often referred to as a Confessor. This could be a clergy member or simply someone who is a member of the congregation.
Mentoring can be a powerful interaction between an experienced mentor and a lesser experienced, sometimes younger mentee. The relationship is typically guidance-based and can take place in a variety of formats, such as professional life, school environments, and marriage.
Regardless of the title, everyone at some point in their life, needs someone to assist them in professional, spiritual, marital matters, parenting, etc. At its core, mentoring is helping! Mentoring can be a powerful experience for the mentor and the person receiving the mentoring.
The history of mentoring appears to have originated as far back as Greek mythology. A man named Mentor became a trusted confidant and overseer to Odysseus and his son Telemachus. This was at the time of the Greek war against Troy. Through his dealings with these two famous Greek leaders, the term “mentor” was coined. From this time in Greek mythology, up to the last one hundred years or so, there was little reference to mentoring. Logic would tell us that these types of interactions must have taken place in many communities around the world. The important concept of apprenticeship certainly had strong elements of mentorship in its DNA. Over the course of US history, there have been many who have participated in mentor-mentee arrangements. Some notable examples are listed below:
- Henry David Thoreau, American essayist, poet, and philosopher, was mentored by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a powerful American essayist and poet who led the Transcendentalist Movement in the mid-19th Emerson was a major influencer in the same disciplines as Thoreau and shaped his education and philosophy.
- Helen Keller, American author, and disability advocate, was mentored by Anne Sullivan. Sullivan taught Keller to overcome her blindness and become one of the most powerful figures in American history.
- General Colin Powell, Four Star General and former Secretary of State, had what many young people have experienced. That is, having a family member as a mentor. Powell credited his father for instilling in him the virtues of hard work, loyalty, integrity and being a leader, as the central focus of his life.
These three examples are of very public and famous American figures. The fact is, anyone who has some experience and expertise can be a mentor. In addition to having experience and expertise, the main requirement for mentorship is a willingness to help others. Being interested in others, giving back, and “paying it forward,” should be the core values of mentorship.
How do you become a mentor? The options for becoming a mentor are endless! Listed below is a small sampling to get everyone started on their exciting mentorship journey:
- Your Place of Employment. This can be pursued through a formal channel, such as the Human Resources Dept, or informally as the opportunity arises and someone looks ready for direction.
- Boys and Girls Clubs of America,www.bgca.org
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,www.bbbs.org
- Local Churches
- Just Serve,www.justserve.org
It is never too late to become a mentor. Start your journey now to help others and yourself in the process.