When you embark on the path of an English major, you bring with it a large, neon sign that says “editor.” Your skills in grammar, fluency in syntax, and artistic touch with language will be beaten to the ground by friends and family from all corners. Personal statements, final theses, and even the random collection of poetry will be presented to you with an apologetic smile and a promise for free dinner and beer.
It’s not a bad thing, I love helping out my friends. This editing thing also reaffirms to me that I’m actually capable of writing and editing. I can do the things my degree says I should know.
In the process of doing my most recent run of pro bono essay work, I came across a statement about mentorship. It got me thinking about the mentors and proteges I’ve run into in my life. It’s not often that I think back to the people who’ve shaped my life, and it’s even less common for me to think about the proteges that stupidly walked into my drunken lesson/rants.
I hold onto this egocentric thought: I got where I am today because of my own development. I learned all these lessons on my own, I worked hard to get the skills that I have, and I alone am accountable for the state my life is in. Nobody else. It’s as shitty as I made it, it’s as good as I made it, which all depends on how Monday my Mondays are.
It all started when I wanted to take more accountability for my actions, but the side effect of this principle is the natural fading of the accountability of others. This applies to all good and bad things people can impart on you. I don’t think I’ve given enough credit to the people around me for shaping me into something close to an adult.
I think it’s true that I alone am responsible for choosing which lessons to take to heart, which lessons to nod politely towards, and which lessons to throw out as soon as I turn around. But I can’t control which lessons are set upon my plate, that responsibility lies in the revolving line-up of mentors.
The importance of a mentor is something that’s oft-repeated, yet never fairly emphasized. It’s usually in the middle of a top 10 list detailing the painful road to success. I’d boil down that top 10 list to three things: cultivate the ability to take risk and accept failure, work harder than what you think is your hardest, and find a mentor that’ll show you their roadmap, so you have something to go off of when you map your own.
The mentor’s advice is never meant to be taken as Scripture. It’s not the mentor’s responsibility to illuminate the path of your future. All of the good mentors in my life have taken small chips at my rough edges, polishing them, giving me their gems without caring if they stuck. The man I became is the man I chose to become, but the mentors in my life certainly made my choice easier.
For example, one of my mentors left me with this recent gem on my phone:
Ok, so maybe it’s not all lessons and wisdom.