“Success leaves clues.”
What is a mentor? Well, according to Oxford’s Dictionary of Current English a mentor is “an experienced and trusted advisor”. So in order for someone to be your mentor they would have to have had certain life experiences that you could relate to, they need to have lived it, ‘walked the talk’ as we call it today. You would need to have confidence in the individual in order to trust them as reliable, and finally, you would have to be willing to let them communicate with you. You’d have to be open to their teaching.
Now you might question why it’s important to establish mentors at all. Why not go and try things out on your own, with no guidance or support? Well, you can, that is definitely one approach. But having mentors can dramatically speed up your progress. If you have a desired outcome – like learning to be more creative for example – you could stumble around on your own trying to figure it out or you could simply search out the most creative people that have ever lived and study their lives. Learn from them; research what they did and what they avoided. By studying their lives and adopting some of their practices you have an incredible opportunity to enhance your life dramatically and quickly.
I think it’s a great idea to establish a personal mastermind group with a series of mentors that you select. Mastermind groups were first outlined in detail in Napoleon Hill’s famous book entitled Think and Grow Rich. In his book he describes how a mastermind is “two or more minds working actively together in perfect harmony toward a common definite object.” Essentially, your personal mastermind group will assist, inspire and motivate you to achieve your best. They may provide vital skills or knowledge that you lack, and in return, your responsibility is to offer your skills, expertise and support to them. Your mastermind group should include the people that you will regularly check in with to discuss your creative struggles, progress and questions. When I say that you will check in with these people it might be a face-to-face discussion or it might be a consultation through an imaginary talk. For example, 2 of my mentors include Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, two Renaissance masters who died almost 500 years ago. Also in my personal mastermind group are contemporary people who are outstanding in fields that I am passionate about, a couple of close friends who are also visual artists, my husband, brother, sister and parents. The way that I learn from Leonardo and Michelangelo is through studying their lives, art, inventions and writing, while I learn from some of my other mentors by watching them in action and listening to their advice.
When you set out to create your mastermind group of mentors, I would start with contacting 3 – 5 people. When you connect with them either in person, on the phone or via the Internet, be very clear about why you have contacted them in order to establish whether or not they are willing to work with you in a mentoring capacity. If they are interested, you can then proceed with some of the details regarding how are you hoping to connect with them, how frequently, for what time duration, along with the primary objectives you are attempting to address through the relationship.
One of my mentors I talk with in person on almost a weekly basis, while others I talk to on the phone once a month. Other mentors are present in my life only through visual reminders that I post in my studio and around my home. I have their works, or powerful quotes on my walls to inspire and motivate me.
Let me be very clear, you are not creating a fan club here, you are creating a powerful group that will support, encourage, teach, critique and push you. Your mentors should be strong enough to speak the truth to you, even when it might hurt – essentially giving you a kick-in-the-butt when you need it. They should also celebrate with you when you achieve your goals, push through your fears and do your creative work.
If you are already clear on a chosen field or creative endeavor that you are passionate about such as photography, art history, cooking, computer programming or electronic music, it would be a great idea to have one of your mentors a person from that field whose work you really admire. Research them. What was their path? How did they get started? What special training or education did they require? What is their creative process? How do they work through periods of time when they are not feeling inspired? Using the Internet, you may even be able to connect with some of the key people that you research and establish on-line relationships with them.
One of the ways that I tap into my mentor relationships is imagining what each of my mentors would do if they were in my shoes. This is particularly useful when I am feeling blocked, frustrated or depressed with the current direction of a project or piece. I also like to imagine what they might say to me if they were sitting right in front of me. What advice might they give me? This is another fun way to utilize the power of your creativity and imagination as well.
I am continually amazed and impressed at the willingness of people to share their ideas, best practices and expertise to help others. What do you have to lose by making a call, or firing off a quick email? Don’t underestimate the power of great mentors – they can have an enormous impact.
One final note…while you are thinking about people who could be instrumental in helping you achieve your creative goals, its also a great idea to think about others who you might be able to reach out to providing encouragement and expertise. Few things in life are more satisfying than helping others grow and develop.