Select Page

The real definition of a mentor

Have you ever thought about those people you looked up to when you were a kid—your school librarian, that cool neighbor down the street, your fun uncle—and realized that though they were giants in your 8-year-old head, they were really just normal grownups still trying to figure it out? That they were, in fact, probably younger than you are now?

Yeah, me neither.

A few years ago I was talking to my mom about my first grade teacher, and I mentioned that she was probably dead by now.

“Why?” my mom said.

“Well, because she was old then. That was, like, over 30 years ago,” I said.

“Um, she was maybe 40 years old then. Maybe.”

I was floored.

It’s been in my thirties that I realized most of the time, the people I admire most are just normal human beings, figuring out life and doing it the best they can. In fact, my favorite definition of an “expert” is this:

Someone who’s just one step ahead of me.

That’s it. Not a million miles ahead, because then they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in the stage I’m in, conquering my present-day battles. But not behind or even next to me, because then that’s really a friend, walking alongside me, figuring out the same stuff as me.

A good mentor is someone who’s just a few steps ahead of me.

coffee shop table

I’ve had mentors for various things throughout my life, and it’s ALWAYS been a good thing. Whether it’s for deeper spiritual stuff or for practical, life-hack sort of things (cooking, parenting, and the like), they’ve made my life richer, more fun, and less lonely.

They’re not always older than me, either. Sometimes they just know more about whatever it is I want to learn.

Right now, I’m craving a mentor for this new parenting stage I’m in, with my oldest a sixth grader in the throes of tweenhood (which, by the way, is crazy—I started this website when she was three!). I’d love to have a fellow mom one or two steps ahead to meet with me over coffee and say, “Here’s what I did: X, X, and X. And it all worked out.”

Until then, though, I’m doing what I’ve learned is good for my soul: to be the person for other people that I want for myself.

I’m healthiest when I’ve got someone ahead of me to clear the brush, a small group of friends next to me pointing out the view, and some people just one or two steps behind me, that I can pour into and encourage that, Hey—this journey is do-able. It really is.


peonies in a jar

All our lives are better when we allow wisdom from, well, wise people, pour into our souls. We need each other. No matter how solitary our life feels, we’re all in this together.

I want to know about a favorite grownup of yours from your childhood…. Tell me about them in the comments!

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Julie

    One of my favorite people growing up was Mrs. Bies. She trusted me to watch her children and rooted me on during high school. She was smart and funny and one of my mom’s favorite friends as well. She was lost to cancer a dozen years back. Can’t wait to see her in heaven.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, I love this, Julie. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Sarah M

    The neighborhood block we grew up on was idyllic. It wasn’t in a rich part of town or anything, (in fact, I was raised by a single mother who was teetering near the poverty line) but everyone knew each other, helped each other out, and spent time together. My neighbors that had kids the same age as me (I was 2 when we moved in) and I are a life-long family…29 years later. Now, most of the people on the block were elderly, and unfortunately nearly all of them have passed away, but I have so many fond memories of skipping from house to house, banging on aluminum screen doors, and getting invited in for cookies and milk, or to help water the garden, or to be invited to use my sidewalk chalk to color their driveway. I still have child-size furniture (for my own kids’ use) that was hand-crafted by an elderly man who, along with his wife, babysat me for years and cared for me when my mom had to work late. Now I live in a place that mimics that a bit–the best I’ve found in adulthood, and still, it’s so far away from what it was for me. I cherish those memories, and I know my surrogate sister & brother who lived 3 houses down, do too.

  3. Cass

    My favorite grown up during my childhood was my 3rd grade teacher. She treated us like fellow humans on a journey, was interested in our lives, opened up some about her life, and never belittled us. Always respect and kindness. I kept in touch on and off until she passed away a few years ago.

    I love the mentoring thing- your blog has been that somewhat for me. De cluttered my life prior to moving overseas 4 years ago or so, and found your blog in the process. I’m a quiet follower, normally 🙂 I love hearing about your family’s journey as my family is sorting through ours (I’m probably not too far from the life stage you were at when you started this blog-ha! Pregnant with a preschooler and toddler in tow, missing Tex-Mex too much, figuring out the cross-cultural life.) Thanks for sharing your journey, and best wishes on the mentoring gig- you’re a natural at it.

  4. Betsy

    I would have to say my Aunt Rita had the biggest influence on me. She came from Pennsylvania coal country and could do anything. She chopped wood, grew vegetables, canned, made most of her own clothes, refinished and reupholstered furniture all while working a full time job and commuting over an hour each way. She always was dressed to the nines as they use to say. She was my mentor, she shared all her knowledge with me. She use to say that if you worked hard enough anything was possible. She never was able to have children of her own. I know that saddened her but she shared her love and knowledge with her nieces. She’s gone now but I think of her often and how lucky I was to be part of her life.

  5. AnnMarie Johnson

    My first grade teacher’s husband died last week. Like you, I was floored to realize she was still alive–surely she was as old as my grandparents? I guess not–probably the age of my own parents, since she had children just a few years ahead of me in school!

  6. Linda Sand

    My best tween parenting tips: I told my daughter anytime she felt pressured to do something she didn’t want to do she could blame me for her not doing it. And I told her her body would be able to produce a child long before she was ready to be a parent so not to risk that happening. (My friend got pregnant without having “gone all the way” so playing around can be riskier than you realize.)

  7. Barb

    One of my favorite people was my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. LaBresh. She always had a pleasant smile and was kind-hearted. The greatest thing was she encouraged me in my art. I hung onto her encouragement and now I’m a graphic designer. Her words helped me to believe in myself and even today it still resonates with me, I’m 48 years old now. It still gives me hope that God could use me in future creative endeavors.
    Thank you Tsh for the article. The mentoring you’re about to do sounds awesome!

  8. Stephanie

    I laughed out loud when I read “Here’s what I did: X, X, and X. And it all worked out.”. If only we could find x! I am the mother of 3 boys ages 13 to 23. Mentors a bit ahead of you are the very best. They help you see that: a. you’re not nuts, b. your child isn’t nuts, and c. this too shall pass. One of my absolute favorite resources has been (and still is!) the book, “Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenagers” by Jodie Berndt. My copy is underlined, hilighted, dog-eared, post-it flagged, photo copied and tear stained. I have given this book as a gift so many times I have lost count. Friends in the same trenches are also great resources. Thanks for doing what you do as your blog is a much needed resource as well.

  9. Shanon Cimbura

    Each week I am more and more amazed at how you seem to parallel my life with your thoughts! In the journey or life I found myself often as the mentor lately (hmmm could I really be getting old?) But this article made me realize that I still need others to look to for advice, thoughts, what not to do, and encouragement. My friends range in age from mid 20’s through late 60’s. Five years ago I ignored any talk about empty nest. Even though I had a 17 year old (and 15 and 9) it seemed so far off! Yet in reality I was only a year away from her leaving for college. I just didn’t want to face it. I handled my first child leaving the house ok. But when my second one left – I was devastated! Now I joke with friends who are within a couple of years of experiencing their first child leaving home, they better start preparing! My job as the mentor is to share my experiences. Thanks for speaking to my heart.

  10. Anna

    From my younger years, I can think mostly of teachers who had an impact on me either through taking an interest in my life or developing a love of learning.

    As an adult, I have appreciated those people who are a little ahead of me and offer encouragement or advice. It’s nice to have someone to be able to ask, “How did you handle….?” or similar questions.

  11. Alicen

    My oldest is 8, middle is 5, and my youngest is 11 months. I’m thinking I best start looking for a tween parent to latch onto for when mine gets there! Thanks for the warning 😉
    I have 2 close family members who have recently had their firsts and I do try to offer some ‘been there, done that’ advice. Hopefully it has been helpful 🙂

  12. Jess

    One of my favorite adults was Mrs. Smith. She was a fantastic English/reading teacher. She was fair and firm. She saw her students as individuals. She was empathetic and made accommodations for students before it was the pulsar way to teach.
    My hero was my grandfather. He was a giant of a man. He loved with his whole heart. He always had time to talk story. He was hospitable, gave the best hugs, loved to share his passion for jazz music and good custard. He was highly regarded by his work and community friends and acquaintances. He is treasured and missed.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.