Prior to our age of perpetual connectivity, it was said of me, “he’s always seeking a mentor.” Mentors are important: they can guide, they can educate, but most importantly, they must, like all great parents and teachers, teach us how to think.
When I attended music school, first at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, I went hoping to connect with a new mentor, one who had taught my previous mentor (a real mentor and a continued inspiration in my life, though we haven’t seen one another in 14 years; Tom Fries, if you’re out there, I’d love to reconnect and have a beer). What I found was a building filled with false mentors, those comfortable in their status as tenured academics and baton-wavers, filled more with their own ego than a body of work. I respected none of them. They didn’t teach me how to think, only how to think like them.
When the orchestra conductor asked in statement form, “I hear you are leaving us for Berklee. Psh. Real musicians don’t go there,” I responded, “If you are the pillar of a real musician, I’ll take my chances with non-musicians.”
13 years hence, I am a writer, and, for what it’s worth, I did find a mentor at the school of non-musicians, Tom McGah. He was and is a brilliant, wonderful man who encouraged me, like my recently-passed grandmother, to “make what you make and fuck ‘em if they don’t like it.” He also wrote great music.
Now we have potential mentors streaming in real-time across the globe and into our hand. Many are false mentors, offering advice without having done, proliferating every sphere of our lives, from the digital to the physical, simply because they value their lives and work in retweets, likes, and ROI. Do this, do that, try this, try that (even though I’m not doing it myself).
Mentors should be picked not by awards or accolades or retweets or social networks or who raised the most money in their crowd funding campaign, but rather by their work; does it connect with you in an instinctual and primal – read: emotional – way? True mentorship is a synthesis of pieces from various sources that appeal to your values. You have to first discover your values, then you have to open yourself up, not seeking, but opening yourself; it is when you seek that the leeches come out to play. You must collect those bits and bobs of advice, those pearls of wisdom in the context of the lives of the proposed mentor, and engage in thoughtful and intense personal consideration before arriving at a synthesis that is commensurate with your values and your beliefs in your work.
I no longer seek. I’m now only open and a functional synthesizer of bits and bobs with only the occasional dalliance into seeking.