Getting Advice From A Great Mentor Isn’t Just Useful …
It’s Damn Indispensable If You’re Serious About Discovering What’s Possible On The Path
Mentoring is the process of renting your brain to someone else to use for a while as their own…
– Alan Weiss, Ph.D.
Author of “Million Dollar Consulting”
One of the most significant things that you can do is to allow yourself to receive input from people who have been down the path before you, that you find yourself walking in this moment.
These people know what is on the trail. These are people who understand what is about to come up that you can’t see because it is not visible – and the only reason that they know it is there isn’t because they can see it, but because they have been there before and they know the obstacles, they know the traps on the trail. These people have seen the traps before and they can anticipate from the gleanings in the wind where they’ll be before they see them again. These people also get that even those things that are visible and recognizable to them are sometimes not visible or not available to be seen by someone who hasn’t seen them before.
On the other side of this coin these people also have the ability to sniff out opportunity in the fermentation stage, before it the process finishes and reaches completion where others become aware of it. This gives them the advantage of being where the opportunity will be before it appears. Instead of running with the pack to get to the opportunity after the fact, these people are sitting there waiting for it to appear knowing just where to be and when so by the time the pack reaches them they’re already picking their teeth from the meal they’ve already consumed – and the others are left to dine on left-overs.
Essentially a great mentor has a number of well honed qualities, including but not limited to having “been there and done that” with the t-shirt to prove it. In fact having the t-shirt just indicates the smallest essential part of the puzzle, and by itself alone would never justify adopting someone as a mentor IMO.
Far more essential than just having had the experience would be the learning that was ingested and digested along the way – the stuff that has become part and parcel of who the mentor has become. This shows up in the skill set they possess, and even more plainly in their day t0 day behavior – especially in who they are off stage.
Finding a mentor who has moved beyond “talk the talk” to “walk the walk” may be the single most valuable thing you can do in finding and walking your own path when it coincides with they one they’ve learned to walk so well.
I want to share a little example of this unique skill set.
In Addition To The Jersey Devil There’s Another Incredibly Fascinating Character Living In The Pine Barrens Of New Jersey, And His Name Is Tom Brown, Jr.
There is a man in New Jersey here where I live by the name of Tom Brown. He grew up on the edge of the NJ Pine Barrens, and still makes him home there today. Tom is probably the world’s most outstanding tracker.
As a young boy Tom made a decision that he was going to be a tracker. He spent every free minute he had, after school, on weekends, holidays, over the summers … learning how to track from an old Indian scout who was the grandfather of one of his best friends. They went out tracking together from the time he was 15 years old learning how to find animal tracks in the fields, in the woods and along the streams where he lived.
When he graduated high-school, around the age of eighteen, his father confronted him with a choice; “… go to college and get a degree, or get a job and go to work.” Tom choose getting a job … he would be a tracker. The way he tells the story this didn’t necessarily go over so well in his home at the time, but in a few years he proved his ability and was consulting with police, law enforcement and rescue teams around the United States based on his amazing skills as a tracker.
By the time that I met Tom he was in his 50’s, and was incredibly accomplished. He had worked with law enforcement agencies around the world teaching tracking skills. He ran a tracking school in a place called Asbury, NJ on the edge of the Pine Barrens. which is a remote wilderness area near the southern center of state of New Jersey; and he taking executives and put them through a week or two week program where he would teach them wilderness skills. He specifically emphasized the idea of tracking and noticing for information that was present, but to the untrained eye invisible.
I spent a weekend with Tom learning tracking with him and there was a moment in which we walked around a field that surrounded a parking lot. At the edge where the field met the asphalt of the parking lot there was an area about 10 feet or 12 feet wide where the asphalt of the parking lot turned into dirt, the dirt turned into grass, and then the grass entered into the woods. Walking at a normal walking pace, let’s say about 3 mph, Tom was able to walk the perimeter of the parking lot and point out tracks that were present there – squirrel, fox, rabbit. When I looked down what I saw was dirt, dirt, dirt.
Then we slowed down, and Tom took me down to ground level, he put my hand in the track and said, “Feel this. Can you feel that indentation?” Of course it was there and I said I could. He said, “Look at those two little dots. Do you see them near the indentation?” When he pointed them out I could see the two little dots. He told me they were the nails of a squirrel. He could see moving at a walking pace around the perimeter of the parking lot two little dots in the ground that were the nails of a squirrel!
Tom knew that those two little dots he had seen meant that the squirrel that had left those tracks behind was running away from something, because he could see from the length of the squirrel’s stride that it had been running frantically. We then went backwards and he showed me where the fox had been at the edge of the woods, because the grass had been beaten down in a particular way. We went on this way for about 1 ½ hours. It was stunning. Tom could see what had happened in that small portion of the wilderness several hours before like he was looking at in unfolding before him in the moment.
The world that Tom Brown lives in and was obvious to him … inescapably obvious … was completely invisible to me. After two hours with him I was aware that there was a world out there that was still invisible to me, but I was no longer ignorant of its presence. If I chose to spend two, or three, or five years with Tom maybe I could get to the point where I could walk around the perimeter of a parking lot and see the trail, and the markings of the animals that had been there before – but I couldn’t do it that morning.
Despite the fact that I now know there are animal tracks and a story there in the dirt between the parking lot and the grass I still can’t do it. I don’t have the training, or the skills, or the knowledge to even know what to look for in that small space. But if Tom were walking with me on a trail I know there would be so much more present for me in my world than I ever experience as being present for me when I am just walking that trail by myself.
Walking Along The Trail With A Mentor Of Your Own
The same thing is true of walking along any mentor who knows the trail they’ve lived as well as Tom knows how to track. That domain of expertise can be mentoring in the area of business development, the area of specific skills development or it can be in the area of building a life that works. It doesn’t matter what area of domain of expertise the mentor possesses, if they are skillful enough they live in a world that the untrained person doesn’t ever see, let alone experience. Yet, it would be possible to experience the world in that way if they had a mentor who knew how to find the tracks, signals and signs, and was pointing them out along the way.
Mentors see things that are there, and obvious to the trained eye, that simply don’t exist for the person who doesn’t have the skill set they possess. They create leverage in the possibility of learning and growing that would be impossible to access without that expertise. Mentors make this kind of advanced learning and acuity available to you, and I know of no substitute for it. At every turn when I’ve wanted to take the next steps on my own life’s journey, first before all else, I’ve found myself a brilliant mentor to walk the path with me. I still surround myself with mentors, young and old as necessary and required, to guide the steps I take as continue moving forward in the adventure.
If you are really serious and you really intend to make enormous leaps and gains in any area of skill development or improvement in your life … and raise the level of your performance beyond the capacity that you currently possess by performing on your own … find someone who has been there before and to engage them as a mentor doing whatever it takes to allow them to take you to where you aren’t yet, and they have already been.
A Small Bit Of Friendly Closing Advice
(NOTE: This Bit Is Only For Those Who Are Serious & Thick Skinned Enough For The Raw Truth … Proceed With Caution)
I’m sure you get that the message here has been that when you decide to make the leap of faith required to commit and engage on a path of your own … one you haven’t yet mastered but sense a compulsion to pursue … start by finding a mentor who can and will guide you in the journey you’re about to undertake. What I’d like to share in closing from what I’ve learned about taking this advice myself would be this …
Start by keeping your mouth shut. I know some of you will find that advice harsh. Many of you reading this have likely grown up in a culture where you’ve been taught that “learning should be a participative activity” and that “you should be a partner in the learning experience” and other such B.S. that doesn’t apply here at all IMO. In the mentoring relationship the mentor has the expertise that you do not yet possess, but desire to own for yourself. The fastest way to build the skills you desire for yourself almost always means doing what your told (AGGGHHHH!!!! I know you hate that one!).
NOW … AFTER YOU’VE DONE IT (unquestioningly) … ask all your questions … make all your comments … have all the disagreements you need or want. Because AFTER you’ve done it you’ll have an experience you can talk about that has depth and value … instead of engaging in mental masturbation about what you think but don’t know yet.