A very long time ago, I decided I wanted to be a designer.
My medium at the time was newspapers and I was working nights at a large newspaper in Arizona designing the sports section. However, the routine became monotonous and stale, leaving me hungry to learn and do more. I would often return home after midnight, mentally — and sometimes physically — exhausted from the tight deadlines and the fear of costing our sinking ship more money due to missing them.
I stayed up until my eyes grew heavy. I read every online tutorial I could find, copying just for practice. It helped me learn about the tools, but it was impossible to judge my original ideas, since tutorials don’t help you develop good taste.
During that year of exploration, I discovered a lot about myself as a person. I needed help. I needed to find someone else who was well experienced to guide me and help me grow. I needed a mentor.
As humans, we need someone to rely on. Whether it’s for personal or professional growth, we need someone to keep us honest. Someone to challenge us. Someone to drive us. But mostly, someone to champion and inspire us.
I was fortunate enough to have someone just like that. Someone who wanted to share the knowledge he had gained over the years of practicing and perfecting with as many people around him who were willing to listen.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” — Not Ben Franklin
My boss had become my mentor: the very person who hired me to work for him was now helping me develop new skills so that eventually I could move on. We would work nearly every day together, him showing me the basics of HTML and CSS, and helping me understand how and why web sites are structured the way they are. He became a person I leaned on when I got stuck, but also someone I could trust to give me an honest opinion and help me become better.
While I still did ‘homework’ every late night — or early morning (depending on how you read a clock) — through online tutorials, my mentor was the person I relied on to get me through tough problems and to congratulate me on the accomplishment of solving them.
Since then, I’ve made my rounds at a few organizations and have built up a network of mentors. I now have a group of close friends and colleagues who will answer the call when I need them.
That’s what a mentor does. A tutorial can’t do that.
While there is power in learning through tutorials, the value of a mentorship is worth every penny you invest. If you have a network of people willing to help you for free, take full advantage of it — for any skill that is: cooking, web development, archery … it doesn’t matter. Find someone online and reach out to them. Go to a local meetup and talk with people who you would enjoy learning from.
A mentor will involve you in the learning process, unlike tutorials that just show you. They will force you to grow, understand, and accomplish things you wouldn’t do on your own. Learning from others makes you better. It also teaches the teacher — which is why I joined Bloc and now teach at the high school and university levels.
As I work with aspiring designers, they’ve encouraged me to continue learning. They’ve encouraged me to do better work. They’ve encouraged me to keep seeking out new mentors in all aspects of my life.
If you’ve reached a point where you feel stuck or you’re tired of learning alone, it’s time to find a mentor. Find someone with the skills you want to gain. Learn from them. Get inspired by them. Talk with them. Don’t wait. Start now.