The first mentor ever mentioned is found in Greek mythology. When Odysseus begins his journey, his son, Telemachus, is left in the care of Mentor, for guidance and protection. The story unfolds with the goddess Athena intervening and assuming the form of Mentor in than she could encourage Telemachus to assert himself and take charge of his role in the lives of his mother Penelope and father Odysseus.
Is it an accident that the very first mentor in literature is both a mortal man and a female god? I think not. The moral of this mythological story is that the role of protector and guide is complex and can be filled by many different types of people (and to those who they help can even take on god-like qualities!)
So, who and what is a mentor? On the most basic level, a mentor is anyone who will influence your growth and development in a positive manner so that you can determine and then achieve your life’s goals. Mentors are role models, teachers, cheerleaders, and trusted friends. Mentors are experienced and willing to open doors to opportunities. Mentors help you develop skills, both practical and personal.
And mentors help keep you out of trouble. And when the deed is done and you are already stuck in the mud, mentors help lift you up, clean you off, and get you going in the right direction again. Mentors help you believe in yourself, especially when the going gets tough, as it is bound to from time to time. Being a mentor is not an easy job.
And mentors are sometimes found in the most unlikely places, teaching you the most unlikely things. Sometimes you don’t know that person is a mentor. When I think about it, first mentor (except for my parents) was my Aunt Marilyn. She is my mother’s youngest sister by 17 years, and a mere 5 years older than I. At our present ages, the age difference doesn’t mean a lot, but way back in my early childhood, it was a huge difference. She knew all the new dance steps, the new rope jumping steps and new ball games girls would play with the pink hued Pensy Pinky ball or the sturdier Spaulding. (I preferred the latter).
As we tossed the ball against the side of our house, bounced it over and under our legs and arms, and threw it “like a girl” to and at each other, I discovered my rather decent hand-eye coordination, my love for games which morphed into my love of sports, and revealed to me the satisfaction gained from my competitive spirit. These early self-revelations were all critical to my life’s path.
My next important early childhood mentor was my fifth grade teacher, Rita Braver. She had been warned that I was “challenging” by my fourth grade nemesis, Miss Z. Miss Z. ranked me at the bottom of the class for hygiene because I bit my other-wise clean nails, could not control my unruly hair, and always had rumpled clothing from being slightly chunky and preferring to play with the boys. This not so subtle form of gender stereotyping plagued many ambitious girls of my generation who spent more time on our books than on our looks. Despite this not-so-rave review, when I reached the fifth grade, Mrs. Braver chose me, out of all the girls in our class, to help with kindergarten set up when school began. I could join my class 10 minutes late every day! Someone important believed in me! She knew I could make up the work load. She new I could be reliable. She recognized me for important characteristics and gave me an opportunity that set me apart from the rest. I never have forgotten how much she changed my life.
So you can see that mentors are all around. They can be found in unexpected places and can be unexpected people. While letting people help you in life, you can learn about yourself, develop skills, and move towards your goals. If you look around you will find these people and you will learn to develop these increasingly important (and as you go along increasingly more complex) relationships.
As my life went on, I gathered up mentors wherever I went. And when I got into high school, these critical guides became increasingly more important. Shaping my education, the foundation for giving me the choices I needed to follow my dreams, was one of the most important gifts I received from my next level of mentors.