Mentors, Heartening and Worth Considering

Learning every day into old age.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

After a long conversation with my brothers and sisters on what the word mentors means, perhaps more correctly, what this word stands for. It carries that added weight where one can say: what, beyond the dictionary definition, does mentoring mean? There’s a lot there! Loads.

The conversation prompted us to recall our pasts. At first, everyone was just a little hesitant, then a flowing river of rich memories that qualified as mentor experiences. Despite one of my sisters’ concern having to do with a teacher with less than honorable intentions, we settled on those experiences that were positive.

There’s a goodness in mentoring. We agreed that one who learns something from another, out of the school environment, is often one that comes with an essence of goodness. That human quality that is selfless on the part of the teacher. Not entirely, we are humans and, given the perfect situation; we are capable of selling our own mothers, if not them, then certainly our grandmas.

At a time where importance is placed upon being in the present moment, recalling into our pasts of those who helped us find our way in this complicated life is a good thing. It’s not like we’re dwelling or longing for or trying to relive the past rather, we are reviewing what we learned from mentors. Things we learned help us in our present time challenges and remembering how these teachings came about can only be a positive thing.

In fact, recalling when, where and from who we learned one thing or another can help us in the present navigation of life, the teachings can be refreshed, reinvigorated. I’m a lifelong meditator and I try to be in the present constantly. But going back proactively, to uncover ‘old’ teachings can only strengthen those teachings. Obviously, the good things we learned in our past can be re-energized and put to constructive use in the present.

First, a brief definition of mentor. What it is beyond Webster’s interpretation, as there is so much more to explain.

A mentor, what is mentoring? That which teaches in the purest sense. My definition of mentorship and what it means for our lives. My experience is that the mentor can appear from as early as childhood. Even as a seventy-one-year-old man, though not daily, I continue to encounter teachers. Yes, I have chosen to identify learning opportunities from fellow humans and from the animal kingdom as mentors. It’s the word that fits perfectly this sometimes confusing life of learning. When do we actually ever stop learning? Never, of course.

Mentors, mentorship and the impact mentors have upon our lives. In fact imponderable. Just as the ocean tides move in and move out every day, such a part mentors play in our lives. Going out on a limb here a little: I will say there have been mentors in our lives that we never even were aware of! Think about it, there are those who have never recognized a mentor of having ‘come through’ their lives.’

On the opposite extreme sits me. It seems growing up I ran into mentors almost daily! I can’t rightly remember just at what age it was I sensed that encountering new people was an undeniable opportunity to learn. Many of the people I came across, though not all, as the years passed, seemed to understand that he or she was being held as a mentor by me.

The mentor to qualify must have an ingredient of goodness. This is more challenging to explain. Even a criminal could teach you something and it need not be necessarily bad. It’s a goodness hard to corner. Given that traditionally the energy, in part, which flows between mentor and student, has been recognized as something benevolent, a goodness. This measure of goodness must of necessity be determined by each student. How could it be otherwise? More often than not, you are the only one who knows who your mentors are.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. If you hire a guitar teacher for your child or for yourself, then it’s a given he or she will play the role of mentor on some level. Not strictly learning guitar, there’s more learning taking place.

There’s that under the surface flow of energies taking place between two humans. Simply, just from the way the guitar teacher speaks, moves, expresses her ideas are the things that somewhere deep within me I’m taking notes, learning. This is quite besides learning chords.

People obliged my profile. There can be a headiness resulting from being designated someone’s mentor. The impact of a mentor may be measured by the depth, the meaningfulness of the message your mentor is passing off to you. Coupled with the time, a recognized mentor will share wisdom with you will determine your teachers’ teachings and just how much impact it might have on your life.

I’m convinced that we can never afford to stop learning. We learn daily. Mentors are those willing to share their knowledge with us.

Keep in mind that mentors are those that we label. What about those we learn from without being aware of it? Are these people mentors? Could be. If at a later date we realize the time we spent with a certain individual was without question a learning experience, then there you have another mentor.

I’ve looked up the definition of mentor. The dictionary doesn’t get caught up in details too much. It comes down so that a mentor is called such when he or she has, for whatever reason, unknowingly or willingly, taken you on as a student, learner, an individual (you) they have taken an active interest in.

At this early point, I point out that my definition of mentorship is perhaps much more encompassing than the traditionally accepted understanding of the word. Why is it we have chosen not to name our teachers, those that teach us about life?

Could it be that we simply ignore who are our teachers? Sure it can be. There are cultures where the elders are still held in high respect for their teachings. We sadly and tragically are forgetting this important, though delicate, part of our society. My definition here expands as well. Our teachers come from all ages, even children, even newborns’: (patience, caring for a defenseless life, realizing it’s’ not just me, we understand the importance of sharing the load, the love).

In fact, if we were to deal out medals of gratitude to our mentors, we have to take into consideration the shoe shine guy who you’ll see only once in your lifetime. Perhaps this takes place in La Guardia, or the hot, dusty border crossing from Honduras to Guatemala. In the few minutes you are with the shoe shiner, he shares his take on certain aspects of life that stick forever. There is your mentor! Just that unexpected, quick and, yes, that easy.

So am I redefining the dictionary’s explanation for the word mentor? Very well may be. But it’s necessary if we are to really understand mentorship.

I feel it is important to add my own twist to the accepted dictionary definition. Simply, trust. The kind of trust that encompasses the delicate question which has to be faced early on in the mentor, student encounter. I choose to use the word relationship as sparingly as possible. Frankly, the word relationships has become a word too loaded down with unwanted baggage. Unwanted baggage means sexual advances, fraudulent moves on the part of the mentor, where a mentor’s ulterior motive may include, among others, the desire to do us a wrong. Like taking your money.

This touches lightly on the other mentor factor, of which there are many, as students, have to determine if a potential mentor is right for us. Just this is another learning experience, thus the learning already begins even before it actually does. So important in life to discriminate those who might enter our lives and appear as though there is an element of mentorship. This fine-tuned discrimination can take us a great distance, avoid many headaches or worse.

A lesser example of distrust might be that teacher whose interest in the student is purely to get something from the student. If the student comes from money, or can get a certain favor for the teacher in exchange for teaching. The student, of course, has been bamboozled to the point they do not know they’re being taken advantage of. Happens.

My opinion, that the worst abuse is that of a mentor whose personal goal is to get sexual favors. Nothing wrong with sex! In fact, if it’s clear up front that as adults, one’s involvement with a student, someone who stands to learn things from a mentor, will include the possibility of sexual involvement, as long as it’s not forced or abusive is probably alright.

Of course, there are sacred boundaries not to be crossed. For instance, sexual activity between a student and one’s mentor and say the teaching has to do with religious practices, it’s probably best to not mix the two.

Obviously, if we are considering the mentor subject from childhood days, sex does not enter the picture ever.

To further fill out the definition of mentor, one of my mentors continues to be my wife. Yeah, so, even a positive relationship that hopefully results from one’s marriage qualifies as mentoring. In my case I find I learn many things from my wife. Not the least of them honesty, a tireless approach to one’s work. Her attention to detail in most things in her life is an example to me. If that doesn’t qualify as mentoring, then we need to refresh the accepted definition of the word. She is an example of one driven unapologetically by her principles. Her strong devotion to our kids is a teaching all itself worthy of a book.

Part of the mentor picture is to identify those who qualified in your past. It also involves recognizing those who may fill that role for you today. It is ultimately important that the stories be true. Only this way can real, tried and proven lessons be learned. Were the stories to be fictional then so much of the importance of mentoring would be based on false experience.

It wouldn’t ring true.

Specifically, are the stories relating some of the many mentoring circumstances it has blessed us to have. My guess is that most of us have had a list of mentors go through our lives, helped shape and form us into who we are now. A mentor has to impact your life. A mentor’s teachings have to be based on goodness, a positive outlook, no intent to bring the student harm. A mentor is one who teaches selflessly ideally, though, and this does not always have to be the case.

An important note: The stories may not deal with mentors purely motivated by a kind heart. Neither do the teachers have to be in any way special, or say, better or purer than the next individual, though often certain bright sun rays will shine from some teachers.

I think of the number of fishing guides with whom I’d spend an afternoon after work moving slowly along the reed covered, fish filled shore line of Lake Yohoa in Honduras. Almost all of them became unwitting teachers to me on things having specifically with fishing bass on that lake. Interesting to note that in the course of a long afternoon of fishing, my guides also taught me about the local customs, smoking cigars, women, family life, life’s’ difficulties, life’s pleasures.

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes as an understatement. My fishing guides were three hours at the most, the time we spent together, and yet the learning was undeniable. Then there was an aging high school counselor who took me under his wing. My friend the counselor was amongst the greatest humans I’ve ever met, still today.

Bears mentioning that mentors who become a part of your life for months or even a year will be chosen carefully and are not given the mentor title until they have passed the smell test. Once again, we are just human and by god, we can do harm to one another. So we must take before care taking on a long-term teacher.

Lessons learned do not have to present a completed, wrapped, sealed and delivered package, either. Neither do the teachings have to be of a lofty intellectual or spiritual nature. An encounter with someone who resulted as a mentor may have been a less than sterling human. But it was something he or she did that stuck, and it stayed with me for perhaps years. This doesn’t mean they should sign the guy up for the sainthood award.

A mentor, therefore, can be someone you paid for something, a product, or transport across a bay, maybe an alcoholic carver who, in his gentle way, showed me things. Guides one pays for but not necessarily with the idea you’re going to learn about things of life.

Mentor: one who teaches another about things that help one define life, their goals. They may do their guidance fully aware they are teaching. Other times, the teacher may not even be aware they are mentors.

It’s important to stress the importance of the dynamic of teaching/learning between mentor and student. Not only does the student benefit, the mentor will benefit as well. Each case will determine to what extent as it will, of course, vary. This speaks to the community value of mentoring, amongst many other benefits. The mentor may learn things, too.

There was a time in the late fifties as an eight-year-old on Útila Island off the coast of Honduras. I went across the small town park to throw a fishing line into the clear water, which was right next to the rickety police station jail cell. The inmate who heard someone outside his cell felt prompted to come to the small, barred window. In moments, we became friends. I’ve often thought about what my inmate friend benefitted because of our meeting. Besides the actual help he got from the town’s leaders because I had shared my story with my folks. I mean, he benefitted on a deeper level. I could feel it.

Several days after they had released him (he’d been setup), he introduced me to his beautiful wife and two kids. His wife unwrapped a parcel of coconut candy fresh made for me. She gave me a hug. My new friend patted me on top of my head and we said our goodbyes.

It’s a two-way street, there’s no question about it. This mentoring experience can bear fruit for all those involved, as it did for my inmate friend.

Each of my learning experiences stands as a bright gem. What I hope to encourage is your own self- search. Your past and current learning experiences are your gems. The idea isn’t to get caught up in a mood of longing about the past. There’s a different place you can go to. Set in your mind your wish to see the times in your life you learned important things from mentors, not necessarily from school.

Soon after, recollections will start dripping in, first in bits and pieces. Eventually full memories that are both enlightening and heartening, whose past lessons can energize.

After digging into those learning experiences that you doubtless have accumulated, there will arise a sense of reverence for your past, your time, your existence. All good for the here and now!

In a time where we go crashing recklessly down that road of life, destiny is uncertain, following the status quo at great danger to us as we forget the very things which taught us the precious things that equip us for navigating this thing called life. Recalling past mentors becomes a surprisingly refreshing and self-assuring practice. It’s like taking a big feather duster to dust covered sections of ourselves. It’s wonderful.

We, in turn, inevitably are given opportunities to serve as mentors to others.

Remembering that what goes around comes around.

A breath of fresh air.



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Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson

Discovered the world of Medium some years ago. Amazing! Published first book, romantic adventure in Guatemala and Nicaragua, on Amazon. Title Lenka: Love Story.