“I Am Mentor” and Your Journey to Excellence

Have you given thought to what being a mentor means and how you can be guided to excellence? Do you have a mentor or have you mentored someone?

The term mentor is over three thousand years old and has its origins in Greek mythology. Many are unaware that the term comes from a name. If you’re unfamiliar with Mentor, I would like to introduce him to you. Mentor was a major figure in the Homeric legend of the Trojan War. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca, left to make war on the Trojans, he left his infant son, Telemachus, and his wife Penelope, in the hands of Mentor, his friend and retainer.

To a major degree Mentor was responsible not only for the boy’s education, but for the shaping of his character, the wisdom of his decisions and the clarity and steadfastness of his purpose. Odysseus was gone for over twenty years. As Telemachus grew to young manhood he undertook a search for his father, and Mentor went with him and guided him in his journey. He was the transition figure in Telemachus’ life in the journey from youth to manhood.

Telemachus and Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey

In search of a mentor

A mentor is an individual of high moral character who can guide you in both talent discovery and intellectual and moral development. Regular interaction with high-caliber mentors allows us the opportunity to explore concepts, ideas and great works while being guided towards the true, the beautiful, and the good through both words and example.

When you meet a mentor

Thomas Jefferson spoke of a day that changed his life on May 29th, 1765, when he attended a debate on the Stamp Act by one Patrick Henry. He said of that day, 

“I attended the debate standing at the door of the lobby of the House of Burgesses and heard the splendid display of Mr. Henry’s talents as a popular orator. They were great indeed, such as I have never heard from any other man. He appeared to me to speak as Homer wrote.” 

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson later said that day kindled a flame in his soul. He felt a surge of fervor for freedom and justice that burned bright the rest of his days. Shortly thereafter, he found a mentor in law school by the name of George Wythe. Jefferson’s appetite to learn, inspired by his mentors, was so  deep and broad that the following anecdote was later told of him.

Once when stopping at an inn, he spent the evening with a stranger from the North. The latter was much pleased with Jefferson’s conversation and much surprised at his learning. “When he spoke of the law,” said the stranger, “I thought he was a lawyer, when he talked about mechanics I was sure he was an engineer, when he got into medicine it was evident he was a physician, when he discussed theology I was convinced he must be a clergyman, when he talked of literature I made up my mind I had run up against a college professor that knew everything.” 

-Fanny E. Coe, Makers of the Nation

Let me ask you these questions: How valuable were these two mentors to Jefferson? How valuable did Jefferson become to America? To the world?

Teacher, model, guide and coach

The mentor, with greater experience in the world than the mentee, serves variously as teacher, model, guide, and coach. As teacher, the mentor enhances the mentee’s skills and intellectual development. As model, the mentor uses his or her influence and example to facilitate the mentee’s entry and early advancement in the field of their shared interest. As guide, the mentor helps to initiate the mentee into a new social and occupational world acquainting him or her with its values, customs, resources, and contacts. As coach, the mentor provides counsel, moral support, and direction; and through his or her own virtues, achievements, and lifestyle, serves as an exemplar whom the mentee can seek to emulate. 

The most critical function of the mentor is to support and facilitate the discovery and realization of the mentee’s own unique mission in life. The mentor also shares the “classic” that most moved them in their journey.

What you can expect from a mentor

The best mentors are continually learning and pushing themselves and you. Mentors question, probe, ponder, think, discuss, write, and apply. They provide much needed accountability to self and others. Mentees learn to keep their promises to self and others. This reliability tells the mentor you are serious about your objective. Mentors not only give assignments, but also accept them. Mentors cannot pass on a better education than they have themselves. Mentoring is a shared opportunity for learning and growth. It is also appropriate at times to have more than one mentor. A mentor can be living or dead. A mentor can also be a book, a piece of art or music that inspires us to greater education, change and improvement. 

It should be like air

I end with the story of a dispassionate youth who desired a mentor. He approached the great Greek Philosopher Socrates and asked, “O great Socrates I come to you for knowledge.” The philosopher took the young man down to the sea, waded in with him and then dunked him under the water for thirty seconds. When he let the young man up for air, Socrates asked him to repeat what he wanted. “Knowledge, O great one.” he sputtered. Socrates put him under the water again only this time a little longer. After repeated dunking and responses the philosopher asked, what do you want? The young man finally gasped: “air I want air!”

“Good,” answered Socrates, “now when you want knowledge as much as you want air you shall have it.” 

So how much do you desire your objective and goals this year? Do you have a mentor? I invite you to find one and ask them if they will mentor you to help you achieve these worthy goals. A mentor can help you find your excellence and mission in life. 

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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