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.
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.
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!
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