There is an old axiom which states that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And so, when the hero is ready, the mentor will appear. In the Hero’s Journey, one of the most significant stages is the Meeting of a Mentor, that sage advisor who acknowledges, supports, and spurs the hero onward. Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan and Yoda. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins had Gandalf. King Arthur had Merlin. The Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi.
But a mentor can be more that a wise old man with a flowing white beard. Though the textbook adventure might paint him as such, the mentor can often be found in those we least expect. I’ve talked to many parents whose children have offered them unparalleled wisdom. Sometimes, even the challenge from a would be enemy can spur us on and help us to realize our full potential.
Since ours is not a fixed mythology, we are not thus restrained to the idea of our mentor being a single human being. As a matter of fact, we are not constrained by the need to have our mentor be a human at all. In the book Ishmael, the mentor is a gorilla. For many of us, the mentor may be an ideology. For some, the mentor may be a blade of grass or a grain of sand.
For those that fall under the label of Generation X, finding a mentor may prove to be a difficult task, as their faith in humankind has been mired down in disillusionment. However, with the first step of the hero’s journey, the hero finds the long absent sense of self esteem that allows him to see that spark of bravado in himself, and so more able to see it in others. Once they are able to look up to themselves, they will be able to look up to others.
The mentor gives us a glimpse into what has come before us. He offers us time tested paradigms, practices, and structures that have been developed to aid us in our journey. For the journey in which each hero partakes is often more a carrying of the torch than the cultivation of the fire. Through the mentor, we find that the fire has been burning for quite a long time before we came onto the scene, and the call to carry it has echoed for generations.
Though the meeting of the mentor finds us in good company and gives us a map for our journey provided by those that have gone before us, the mentor also inspires us to go beyond the edge of the map. For the mentor who has reached the true pinnacle of heroism does not desire a protégé that will simply live up to the standard he has set, but one that will surpass it.
Additionally, few of us are given a singular mentor for we are often on multiple journeys without even realizing it. For each role we fill, we are faced with new challenges and have the capacity to act with heroic abandon. In our roles as parents, employees, employers, artists, athletes, statesmen, we are given abounding opportunities to both accept the help of mentors that we meet and to serve as mentors to others who are on their own hero’s journey.
There is another old axiom that states, “Every man is my teacher and every man is my student.” As we go forth on our journeys of excellence, let us be thankful for those who share their wisdom with us, and let us also be open to encourage others on their paths. A big part of being a hero is being a mentor.