When people say that “no man is an island,” they don’t only mean that no man or woman should live alone. That much-used phrase also refers to the fact that men and women are perpetually learning creatures. They need the help of someone to guide them through life, and to help them make wise decisions. Moreover, as these same men and women grow older, they can guide their younger counterparts through life. This need for people to feel connected, loved, and taught by someone with greater experience and has given rise to different concepts such as mentorship.
What is Mentorship?
Mentoring, or the process of mentorship, is really a growing, strengthening bond that occurs between a mentor and mentee. The mentor is always more experienced and wiser. Being a mentor doesn’t have to mean being older. The mentee is less experienced and wise, and needs to be guided by the mentor. The concept of mentorship has long been known and tracked in history. In fact, it was Homer’s Odyssey that first gave rise to the term “mentor” through its character called Mentor, who, even though he is presented as a somewhat debilitated old man, is actually used by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, to guide Odysseus’ son Telemachus through a difficult time in the young man’s life.
The concept of mentorship also takes various forms in different cultures and periods of history. The Ancient Greeks had the concept of pederasty, in which teachers could hone young men to greatness. The Hindu and Buddhist religions have the concept of the guru, where a wise, religious man serves as the spiritual guide of someone who is misguided or who needs to know the Truth. In Judaism and Christianity, the concept of discipleship forms both history and current practice, as clergy or deeply spiritual people guide their respective flocks or followers. Lastly, in the medieval guilds, an economic system was built for apprentices to learn from guild masters and thus ensure the continuation of their respective crafts.
There are many famous mentor-mentee relationships in history. Take, for instance, the triplet of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, three great minds in philosophy who preceded each other. That is, Socrates was the mentor of Plato, and Plato was the mentor of Aristotle. Aristotle went on to be the mentor of Alexander the Great. In more modern times, the rapper Dr. Dre has been mentor to younger rappers like Eminem and Snoop Dogg. In the movie industry, the late British actor Sir Laurence Olivier served as mentor for the incomparable actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Even fiction has its own display of mentorship in action. There are the Jedi knights of the famous Star Wars epics, where Qui-Gon Jinn mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi; when Qui-Gon Jinn dies, Obi-Wan Kenobi takes on Anakin Skywalker; Luke Skywalker, Anakin’s son, is mentored by Yoda. The master-padawan relationship in the Star Wars series more closely resembles a mentor-mentee dynamic, rather than a combat training regimen.
The Real World
In the employment arena, there are also mentoring programs to help employees do better. Let’s examine new-hire mentorship. Experienced employees are paired with new ones. This helps the new hire to work better and be accustomed to the company culture and climate. This can also happen in high-potential mentorship. An existing employee that shows promise is taken on by an experienced person who wants them to progress higher in the company.
It can be an extremely awarding experience to be mentored. The important thing to remember is to focus not only on what you can learn from your mentor, but what you can give them in return. Only through a truly symbiotic relationship will you find long-term success. Stay tuned for more in-depth looks into the many benefits of mentorship!