Seven Kinds of Mentors

Having mentors is important, and it's also getting a lot of attention online (particularly on social media). I've been very blessed in the mentors I've had, and I also have the privilege of being a mentor to a group of high school and junior high girls. Here's a list of the different kinds of mentors I've had (and/or been), all of which contribute to a well-rounded life that grows and encourages growth in others. Without further ado...

The Ancestors

These are mentors who are not directly involved in your life. Whether that means that you are reading books they wrote or remembering the lessons they taught you when you were a child sitting on their lap, these mentors have passed away and their wisdom is alive through you and your willingness to seek it out. This kind of mentor is one of the most useful for seeing the weaknesses in your own culture/micro-culture, since Ancestor mentors tend to be from a different time and place. Use them! Love them! Become a reader of old books and glean all you can. Read family diaries. Become an expert in the past that created the present. The future feels more manageable when you understand the trajectory of history. 

Mount Olympus Mentor

At this level, the mentors are still alive, but they are 100% out of reach (or, their accomplishments are). In my case, there are a lot of living authors that fall into this category, as well as artists, musicians, etc. They are almost legendary, can be somewhat problematic, and are still super important to developing as a person because you have to have a target that will always make you stretch. Looking up to those way above your level is good, as long as you remember that all your faves are still actually people. It's okay to have heroes and to really look up to them, to feel like they're out of your league, and work in a hundred little ways to become more like them. For budding actors, this may be a multi-Oscar winner; for scientists, a great mind that's made unimaginable breakthroughs. Seek out the work of someone way out of your league and find the way up the mountain. 

The Jedi Mentor

This is the first mentor level that's directly involved in your life. The idea is that the Jedi Master is trying to create their own replacement because there is a job to be done, and the Jedi Apprentice is trying to be ready for the day they become the Master. While it's normal that the Jedi mentor becomes a close personal friend to the apprentice, that's not where things start. You (the apprentice) are dedicated to a cause or a skill set that the mentor (your master) is great at. The goal in everyone's mind is to have the apprentice someday go beyond the mentor, whether that means becoming a genuinely better _____ than your mentor, or just continuing the fight after they are gone; as mastery is achieved, the lines of mentor and mentee blur and both become equals. The Jedi mentor might be a boss, a thesis mentor, a professor or teacher, (in theatre) a director, or a pastor (I've had Jedi mentors who also held all of these jobs, by the way). I wrote a post at the passing of one of these kinds of mentors, which you can read here

Parental Guidance

Whether these are your biological parents or people who you feel you can treat as parental figures, this level of mentorship is really, for the first time, about you. They are invested not in what you will be or how much money you will make or your contributions to the field-- they are invested in you becoming the person you were made to be. They care who you are on the weekends, and about your well-being and personal fulfillment. They're also older, to the point that they will always be ahead in life (usually a gap of 20 years or so). 

The Mentor Next Door

This mentor is above you, but not by much. They are in the next stage of life (in high school/graduating college, student/alumni, entry-level/manager, newlyweds/parents, single/married: the list of possible stages is endless). Whatever you want to be doing next, this mentor is doing. You get to watch the stumbles and the mistakes, and they get to be aware that they are being watched and have a smaller margin for utter stupidity. This role also evaporates as time goes on, because it is very possible to graduate to the point that the Mentor Next Door is just a friend who's a few years older and wiser (this has happened for me with many worship leaders I admire, because the differences in our progress has shrunk over time). Right now, I am currently a Mentor Next Door to some high school students. Someday -- if all goes well -- they won't need me in that role any more.

Sister Mentor

Perhaps my favorite type of mentor to be, and certainly the one I most wish I had when I was younger. This is the person who is both a mentor and able to rely on the mentee, in a way that isn't possible in a Mentor Next Door relationship. While the Mentor Next Door can talk about their weaknesses, the Sister Mentor shows them, in the moment. The mentee is able to grow through the relationship, since the Mentor is calling them up to offer genuine support, and the Mentor practices vulnerability. Two people are growing up; one of them is moving faster. There's a chasing and a catching-up and a level of trust that is hard to come by. This kind of relationship is possible with both relatives and non-relatives, but it is a long-lasting, deeply personal relationship that is worth treasuring, and pursuing, and showing extreme gratitude for. 

(Note: Brother Mentors follow all the same rules, but I am not anyone's brother). 

Baby You

And the closest, most intimate mentor: the child version of yourself. If You from the Past met you today, would they be impressed? Would they be proud? Would they want to grow up to be like you? Would you find yourself someone worth following? Did You From the Past need someone just like You From the Present?  Our child-selves live on in us whether we want them or not. This is where they shine: in reminding us what we wanted to be and who we wanted to be. It's possible You from the Past was immature, selfish, troubled, and vice-ridden (not like You From the Present, I'm sure), but would Past You find your current self convicting? When your younger self speaks fear, do you listen with empathy and respond as though caring for a child you love? If not, find a way to take care of the child inside by becoming the grown-up you needed. This is the mentor that will not let you forget who you were made to be. Listen in. Baby You still has something to say.


Photo by David Clode on Unsplash