Friday, April 29, 2011

Role Models and Mentors, Where Art Thou?

Perhaps if I wore a toga my mentor would appear?
Picture of Mentor and Telemachus from this informative site.
Oh the mythical being of the role model, touted as one to emulate, scrutinised in behaviour and lauded in success. If we’re all supposed to have one, then why is it so hard to find one? 

Throughout my school and university days, I was told time and again that ‘in time’ I would discover role models and mentors who could guide me throughout my career, give me an example of where my path might lead and encourage me to work to my fullest potential. ‘In time’ I was going to somehow meet these people, whether literally or through their work, and when I did I would know that they were the ones. The thing is, I’m not sure I have yet, and with so much credence given to how they would ‘shape me’, I’m wondering whether I should continue to wait around or just get on with it. 

In my mind there is a definitive split between the role model and the mentor. A mentor, firstly, is somebody you have contact with. For someone to be a mentor you need to be on first name terms and they usually need to take an interest in you for the relationship to work. They will offer advice, perhaps share contacts and opportunities, take time to view your work and be open to your questions. A role model, on the other hand, can be a little bit more removed. On a professional plane, I view role models as people who you more or less quietly stalk and then try to emulate. You may not have met your role models and you may never, but you make an effort to keep tabs on what’s going on in their lives. Role models also have the handy ability to be neither current, living nor actually real if that’s what floats your boat. You may choose to designate a television character chief style role model responsibilities, or be inspired by a person’s actions during a certain period in time. 

Even though I feel pretty confident in my abilities to define role models and mentors, when I get to thinking about who mine I are I do sometimes draw a blank. Sure, there are people whose work I like, people whose lives I would like to live for a day, but do they really inspire me to get out of bed in the morning and make every day the best day ever? Perhaps I need a role model who was really good at identifying and latching on to their role models? 

After this rather confusing train of thought I think usually begin to ponder that maybe I don’t need a mentor anyway? I mean, I’m doing pretty well by myself, aren’t I? At this point I consider how my day has gone so far. This morning, for example:

  • Stayed up until 1:30am writing a CD review which when re-read this morning was entirely filled with spelling errors and a few completely made up words.
  • Woke after yoga class had already begun, so stayed in bed eating Easter Eggs until 8:30am.
  • Washed up last night’s dishes.
  • Ate breakfast.
  • Went shopping and bought new work shirts plus fancy pants usb tv tuner for laptop.
  • Came home to work on articles, spent time instead installing new tv tuner.
  • Ate chocolate while waiting for tv tuner to tune.
  • Ate yoghurt while waiting for tv tuner to tune.
  • Realised that tv tuner wasn’t going to tune anything inside my bedroom with crummy little included antenna, so moved outside to balcony to get better reception.
  • Sat on cold balcony tiles in cold wind and waited for tv tuner to tune.
  • Wrote role models/mentors article while waiting for tv tuner to tune.
Yeah…I don’t need no mentor or role model to guide me through productive living! Look at how well I’m doing! At this point I shift to ease the pain in my legs from half squatting on my cold balcony and look down to discover possum poop squashed onto my hand. Ok…well…perhaps. 

So where am I going to find myself the shining beacon of a person who will lead me along the path of professional (and life would be an added bonus) success? Will they one day come into my work, stunned at my obvious innate talent for being amazing and demand to have a hand in my life ongoing? Probably not. It seems like I have to do the hard yards with this one. 

Role models are easier, I think, to come across. If I look at my twitter feed and bookmarks folder I have a pretty definitive starting list of people to consider. I may not want to emulate every single detail of each person, but there are definitely traits, talents and tips that inspire. 

Mentors are a little bit more difficult. Is it just me, or is introducing yourself to somebody you admire, requesting that they take a vested interest in the success or failure that is yourself and hoping that they agree not one of the scariest situations imaginable? There are programs, many, that offer mentorship for artists, usually twelve months long and involving a certain number of scheduled meetings and some kind of project or outcome at the end. Most of these, though, I notice, require the mentoree to provide or at least suggest a possible person to act as the mentor. I do think that perhaps the mentorship process has to occur quite organically, with a guidance seeker finding, meeting and developing a relationship with a guidance giver, and that perhaps the word ‘mentor’ is often not actually used in these relationships at all. 

My answer to myself then? Be patient, wee grasshopper, you mentors and role models will come in time. Until then, waste less time tuning your television and perhaps have a go at doing your laundry instead. There are, after all, some things I can do without be told to at all.

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