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Have You Considered Finding and/or Being a Mentor?
by Chris King

Years ago, at the beginning of my storytelling career, I attended an all-day workshop with the renowned storytelling coach, Doug Lipman. There was room for only eight of us, so we each received a lot of individual attention and came away with a new look at our own storytelling. In addition, however, Doug shared many other words of wisdom about how to reach the next level and the next and the next.

One of Doug’s suggestions that has stayed with me and has been a terrific help over the intervening years was the importance of finding a mentor and also being willing to become a mentor. He and the famous storyteller Jay O’Callahan have been meeting regularly in a mentor relationship for years, and both have extolled the benefits. In this article I will share some of the ins and outs of mentorship.

What is a mentor and what is a mentor’s role? I decided to look mentor up in the dictionary and found the succinct descriptions: “trusted counselor or guide,” “a wise, loyal advisor,” and “a teacher or coach.” I feel the operative words here are “trusted,” “wise” and “loyal.” We have all had mentors in our lives, but not always considered them to be a mentor. A mentor may have been a parent, who was more than a parent; a teacher who was more than a teacher; a coach, who was more than a coach; a friend, who was more than a friend. Thinking back, I realize how lucky I have been to have had the mentors I had.

My father was my first mentor.
He was not only wise, trusted and loyal, he believed in me and my potential. He made me realize the value of giving my very best to every project. In school, I had a few teachers who went far beyond being teachers by spending extra time and effort with those of us who tried. In college, my advisor showed such obvious joy in my accomplishments, I had to do well for her sake, as well as my own. Think back about the people who have been mentors to you. I would add a few more words to the definition. I feel that a mentor is a lot more than a counselor, guide, teacher, or coach. A true mentor cares and is someone who believes in you so much that he or she causes you to believe in yourself. A true mentor will give you the confidence to get up and tell stories in front of a group and feel great about it.

Where do I find a mentor? There is that old saying that “when the student is ready, the teach appears.” If we decide we need a mentor now and then actively seek one, so often we will be disappointed because we are trying too hard. On the other hand, if we remain open and giving of our time and expertise to others, we will be surprised by how many mentor opportunities appear. One of my favorite mentors is storyteller Mary Hamilton. I met Mary years ago at a National Speakers Association Convention. She gave an incredible workshop on storytelling that I will never forget. We talked a bit because, even though I was working on my speaking career at the time, deep down I realized that my true passion was and is storytelling. Since then Mary and I have gotten to know each other and I have attended as many of her workshops and training sessions as possible. She may not even realize how much influence she has had on my career.

It is important that the mentor-mentee relationship is satisfying to both people involved. If you find someone you would like to have as a mentor, ask him or her if they are willing. If they back out gracefully, or just say, “No,” accept the answer graciously and without devastation. If you are accepted as a mentee, make sure that you know the ground rules — what you both expect from the relationship. If your mentor suggests that you make certain changes to push yourself to a new level, will you be willing to follow those suggestions? Being a mentor can be satisfying and exhilarating as long as you feel that your mentee is giving it his or her “all.” If, however, you begin to feel drained and/or manipulated, it is time to bow out.

I recently became involved in a mentor-mentee situation where the young man I was meeting with on a regular basis gave me the impression that he was “using” my talents, abilities and knowledge to advance his career rather than trying to develop his own talents, abilities and knowledge. The minute I started to feel this way, I suggested that we not meet so often. We have remained friends and now see each other once in awhile for fun. I feel strongly that as long as both of you feel that your relationship is beneficial, keep it up; but once it isn’t good for one and/or both of you, have the guts to move on.

Make it a goal for 2002 to attend a storytelling retreat. For a special mentoring experience — which can last from one day to a week — there are storytelling retreats taking place all over the country. These are generally led by a well known storyteller, are attended by a limited number of other storytellers, and offer each attendee (mentee) the chance to create, share, coach and be coached. You not only receive lots of individual attention, you are spurred on to excellence by the whole group. I have attended many of these and can trace my growth as a storyteller from the incredible sharing and learning opportunities offered.

So, ask yourself the following questions? Who have been my best mentors over the years and what have I learned from them? Is there someone I would like to have as a mentor now? Is there someone I would like to mentor now? When and how will I start on my mentor quest?

The time is now! Try it — you will be glad you did!


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