Balancing Your Inner And Outer Mentors
Given the daily onslaught of demands made on us from all directions — work, family, social life and more — finding a balance is an exercise for the left hand. Yet it can be achieved by looking inwards more than looking outwards.
As far back as the late 1920s, Karl Marx identified estrangement as a leading cause of human misery and unproductiveness. He was referring to the way industrialization had caused the estrangement of workers from the end-products of their labors, effectively denying them the experience of satisfaction and completion in what they were doing for 14 hours a day in the mills, factories and mines of central Europe.
While the context in which Marx wrote has long been subsumed by dramatic shifts in the workplace, the rise of the creative economy and the theories he expounded in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (a work which became the precursor to his magnum opus, Das Kapital), his observations were both prescient and remarkably accurate.
Fast forward to our times and while modern lifestyles have altered unrecognizably from the rigidly prescribed, compartmentalized existence of the 19th century, that schism of self and fulfillment is wider than ever. The dilemma du jour is “finding a balance” — a term that’s become something of a platitude, since “balance” is, at best, a temporary condition: the minute our priorities change — as they can and must do — bang goes the balance.
In my organization, Ndalo Media, the primary readership of our flagship print and digital DESTINY and DESTINY MAN brands are either established businesswomen and men, ambitious professionals or early-onset entrepreneurs seeking support and encouragement. Amidst the admirable success stories we feature, we often hear the lament: “I’m dropping balls” — there’s always too much to do, too many people to please, too many duties to perform, too many needs to meet. Career women with demanding jobs, children and husbands, who’ve had to cut out pursuits which mean a lot to them, continually seek the “magic formula” that will somehow enable them to do it all and have it all.
Alas, there’s no magic formula. The reality is that balance isn’t only about assigning hours, arbitrarily, to this or that activity: rather, it’s also about achieving a consistent, inner reciprocity between our instincts and our received knowledge. The huge emphasis placed on mentorship in my country, South Africa (and globally) indicates the extent to which we rely on it: according to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, there are entrepreneurship mentors operating in the full range of industries in South Africa. Yet Penny Abbott and Peter Beck’s research of Clutterbuck Associates SA also found that in many cases, these mentoring relationships failed to make a lasting impact on mentees because they lacked clarity of purpose and were formulaic: in other words, while valuable strategies were taught to mentees, they did not impact the internal values which really drive decision-making and behavior. While external mentorship is both necessary and powerful, received knowledge can never supersede inherent wisdom.
It’s all too easy to become so immersed in a mentor’s advice — however well intentioned — that we lose our own rudders.
The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once wrote: “He who looks outside dreams; he who looks inside wakes.” This was echoed by his contemporary, American poet Robert Frost, who declared: “I am not a teacher; I am an awakener.” Their words ring true: the most authentic source of guidance lies within ourselves. Learning to tap into it and trust it is essential for any lasting balance, because it is a prerequisite for inner peace — the condition that allows us to perform optimally and prevents us from being thrown out of kilter.
Interestingly, today many therapies designed to direct people in emotional turmoil have swung away from the old, prescriptive pathology in which counsellors dictate the actions the client should take. Instead, they’re recognizing that we all already know — and have always known — everything we need to resolve our predicaments. We have all the answers inside us and effective mentors should direct us to them. Our task is to sift them out of the detritus of our fears and insecurities, and reconnect with the truths we’ve carried since birth.
From this revelation comes another, equally crucial one: each of us innately shares the power which charges the cosmos. We are undoubtedly children of the Universe. As physicist Carl Sagan wrote: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
Let’s look inwards — and shine.
Khanyi Dhlomo is the founder and CEO of Ndalo Media, one of South Africa’s leading privately-owned multi-platform media companies. She is an MBA graduate of the Harvard Business School and a previous World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.