The Mentor’s Journey (Interlude)

Having just now come to an end of a period of mentorship I am taking a break. I am in an ‘interlude’.

For the past year I’ve been a mentor to a wonderful woman. The year before that I mentored another remarkable woman. Without going into too much detail, I wanted to write about what being a mentor meant to me, and to share my thoughts on what happens now.

For me, being a mentor was a sometimes intense and challenging experience in that it made me think a lot about communication, psychology, societal judgement and what it means to be a mother. Big stuff! It was also incredibly rewarding to see my mentees learning so much, and I learnt a good deal about myself. (It once again confirmed for me my high-sensitivity — I worried a lot about being the best mentor I could be. I worried about getting stuff wrong. I worried about the paperwork details… You get the picture.)

Now that I am no longer a mentor I feel a strange mix of feelings. In some ways I feel relieved (they did it! I did it! Hooray!) and also I feel sad that I won’t be seeing these wonderful women as often as I did before. With many experiences in life there is this same mix of ‘bittersweet’, but try as I might I couldn’t think of any useful examples from film or literature that would give me any insight into the mentor’s journey, and which I could relate to and learn from. What becomes of the mentor? What do they do now?

I could think of many examples of mentor-mentee partnerships (the coupling of Yoda and Luke Skywalker has got to be one of my own personal favourites!) but they tend to focus on the mentee’s journey.

Luke Skywalker and Yoda

Luke Skywalker and Yoda

 

I thought a little longer… and came up with lots more brilliant mentor-mentee relationships: Frodo and Gandalf, Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, Daniel and Mr Miyagi, Jamal Wallace and William Forrester in the film Finding Forrester and Will Hunting and Dr Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting. The scene where Sean (superbly played by Robin Williams) says to Will [about the abuse that he suffered when younger] that ‘it’s not your fault’ over and over again until Will breaks down sobbing has got to be one of my all-time favourite cinematic scenes.

Aside from Gandalf (whose own journey past death/into a higher state of consciousness – I haven’t quite figured that one out! – is witnessed) the focus is on the mentee. At the end of the mentee’s journey (which tends to be the length of the whole film or book) we often see that the mentor has had a life-changing experience – maybe this is the best way to explain what happens to Gandalf – although we don’t get to see what’s in store for them in their new life. We get a tantalizing glimpse that there is a new life ahead of them, although we don’t get to see much of what it looks like.

Then there are the mentee-mentor journeys which go either tragically (or simply horribly) wrong. I’m thinking of Dead Poets’ Society here, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Notes On A Scandal, even Emma by Jane Austen.

Then there are the Sith in Star Wars. How anyone embarking on a mentorship with a Sith (which is basically a mentoring of how to be evil) can think it won’t end up biting them on the bum is a fool. But of course we can’t help but be gripped by how it goes so badly wrong…

Again, these partnerships give fascinating insights into the power (and responsibility) held by the mentor, and how a mentee (and mentor) can be deeply affected by the relationship.

Something I learnt early on from my own mentoring experience is that the mentor and mentee have to be a good fit. I just can’t see how much use can come of a mentee-mentor relationship where both people aren’t attune with each other. (I wanted to use a quote here from Clarissa Pinkola Estes book Women Who Run With The Wolves but I can’t find it. If anyone knows the passage I’m talking about here, please do let me know!)

The word mentor comes from the name of a Greek mythological hero Μέντωρ, Méntōr, who mentored Telemachus. When I thought of the many mentor figures in literature, I could think of more examples of male mentors as oppose to female mentors, but of course being a mentor is not sex-specific. I love how it was actually the goddess Athena, disguised as Mentor, who inspired and counseled Telemachus to go in search of his father Odysseus.

Another interesting facet of being a mentor is that the mentor cannot be tied by blood to their mentee. Their relationship has to exist out of the sphere of the family… It has the potential to be broken (unlike blood ties that irrevocably bind us whether we want them to or not), which, I think, actually gives it its strength.

So… what do I do now? Of course I’m busy with family, work and my own creative pursuits, but a part of me still yearns to ‘give back’ by being a mentor.

I’ve noticed that mentoring schemes are also on the increase. I’ve heard great things from people involved with The WoMentoring Project (for women who write) and think the aims behind the following two organizations are fantastic: The Girls Network (“…a charity that matches girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with inspirational female mentors from all walks of life. [Their] mission is to raise aspirations and remove the barriers from our girls’ path to success.”) and The Wise Campaign (which aims to get more women into the sciences).

One day, time allowing (!), l may look into these so that I can continue to ‘give back’ by mentoring. Yet for the time being I am in an ‘interlude’. It feels disquieting and yet freeing too. I will await the next act.

 

p.s. All this referencing to Star Wars reminds me that I’m really looking forward to the next ‘act’ in the Star Wars saga!

p.p.s. Do let me know your own personal mentor-mentee relationships from books and films. I want to know. 🙂

 

Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the inspiring writing prompts.

 

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7 comments on “The Mentor’s Journey (Interlude)

  1. […] up with my friend and ex-mentee was heartwarming and […]

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  2. Helen says:

    Thank you for another thought provoking post. I’ve been pondering it, and what I think makes a great mentor-mentee relationship is where both parties are changed by it, so it’s not just a simple process of the mentee being improved by the glow of greatness from the mentor. It’s such a privilege to walk this kind of journey with someone, and anyone worth mentoring gives you so much back too, as you get to reflect on what they’re learning, and to practise your own skills too.
    And, Yoda for the win! “Do or not do, there is no try” – I want to get this on a banner over my desk.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      I think you’re right Helen, both the mentee and mentor are changed by their growing relationship if they are a good fit. It’s very enriching for both parties.

      The funny thing about Yoda’s famous quote is that I totally got my knickers in a twist about it! As an example, when I was learning to play the piano I couldn’t make the “do or not do, there is no try” quote fit because in my head, it was about perfectionism. i.e. Do it perfectly, or don’t do it at all since it’s not worth trying to do it if it’s not going to be perfect… So any wrong note that I played totally freaked me out! (You can see how it might have got me in a right old muddle!) Thankfully, nowadays I know that it’s more about having belief in oneself and doing the actual act wholeheartedly (even though it may not be perfect) rather than a half-hearted try… (Anyway, I hope I’ve got that right!)

      Thanks again for stopping by to comment 🙂

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  3. janeygingerboy says:

    Mentoring is such an amazing thing to do Marija and I feel sure you will take it up again…I bet you are great at it! I did do a bit of charity work a few years ago and found it very rewarding but the place closed and I haven’t done anything since. I would like to work for The Samaritans as some point. Have a wonderful weekend! J xx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      I do think mentoring is amazing work; it’s so valuable, and like you, I think I probably will take it up again.

      One of my friends once volunteered for The Samaritans and I think it was a wonderful thing to do. Hard work, but valuable work! I hope you get to work with them at some point. You have a great weekend too 🙂

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  4. I love that you included the Mentor/Telemachus relationship! Thank you for remembering Athena 🙂

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