I have spent a considerable amount of my life searching for mentors. It has always been hard to find a good match, especially during adolescence. As I grew older and narrowed my interests down, I got closer to people I look up to. Yet, I only experienced the harmonic craftsman–apprentice relationships in stories. My numerous quests to find a mentor as a novice often ended up with huge disappointments. Still, I hoped for the days that would bring me the long-awaited resonance. I searched for someone to help me direct my enthusiasm to something meaningful, someone to help me understand why I am doing what I am doing, someone to give me the courage to create. It took me quite a long time with trial and error to realize how impossible that is. It's the most stupid expectation I ever had. Eventually, I have opened my eyes. There is less hope involved since then. If you can live without hope, nothing will disappoint you.
Mentors don't scale
In his interview with The Futur, Seth Godin presents a remarkably persuasive idea that bursts the bubble of mentorship: heroes over mentors.
He says that we usually get this two-hundred IQ advice from the hustle people, to find ourselves a mentor—a mentor who'll look out for us, a mentor that can change everything. The math, however, doesn't add up. For every prolific person in the public eye, there are thousands of people who want that person to be their mentor. This approach doesn't scale. It never did, and never will.
The alternative is to find heroes that don't even need to be aware of our existence. We can study their ideas and ask ourselves what would they do in such situations. Heroes are easy to find, and they scale exponentially. It's the most beneficial leverage of the digital age. We have no excuse to say we are stuck because we don't have a mentor. The world is full of heroes, and we don't need anyone's permission.
Mentors may manipulate
In the real world, everyone minds their own business. Today, we build most of the mentor-mentee relationships to serve a business. We are living in an era in which nobody gives unconditionally. There is always a bargain unless you are not playing zero-sum games.
In his (another) recent interview with Offscreen Magazine, Seth Godin presents a crystal clear definition of manipulation.
If people know what you already know –about your product, your service, and your methods– would they still be eager to buy from you?
If we use leverage and pressure to get someone to make a short-term decision that they will regret in the long run, we've manipulated them.
If you have a mentor that you collaborate on a particular thing, go and tell her that you consider heading towards a different path. How does she react? Is she trying to convince you not to, or just being happy for you? Are you able to collaborate as efficiently as you can till the day comes? What breaks it?
Nonetheless, it would be an arrogant inference to label all mentors as selfish manipulators. There's always a possibility to find inherently generous people. When you do, push them to be heroes.
Wherever you go, there you are
"Be prepared for two scenarios" is one of the numerous pieces of advice from another hero, Derek Sivers. The first scenario depends on nobody but you. There are no lucky breaks. Develop your skills, be resourceful, small, and sustainable. Assume nobody is going to help you. No mentors, no investors, no heritage, no lottery. It's all up to you. You can't wait because there is nobody to wait for.
No matter what you do, where you do, and who you do with, your presence is the universal constant of every equation. Once you realize that this is the real deal, many synthetic issues will disappear.
And when someone does help you, it will make the situation even better.
You, as a mentor
Now it's time to put yourself into the shoes of the people you see as mentors. Imagine living a life where you already have a lot on your plate. Every day, you wake up with an inner voice that tells you "come on, buddy, today is the day. Today we show that middle finger to the system and people that stress us. Then we move into a beach house." You unwillingly get up and go to work. Then the fucktard you hired to lighten your load arrives, asking for directions. Directions of the path that you barely convinced your inner voice to stand a couple of more years. You generously teach everything you know, hoping that someone will see your efforts and give you something in return. Then one day, the fucktard wants to leave. You try your best to persuade, yet fail miserably. After all, you start negotiating with your inner voice to stand some more years. How does that feel?
I don't know how much of a social being you are, but I have a very limited number of people around me. And all those poor souls are dealing with many problems. I don't want to give them this burden of responsibility by declaring them as mentors. I don't want anyone to think of me as a "mentor" as well; I'm a gazillion galaxies far from that. Nobody deserves this obligatory model-citizen role. Unless they voluntarily shout it. If they do, then it's my duty to encourage them to scale.
Do yourself and your mentors a favor. Set them free, and help them to become heroes.