This post is in response to an entry by Technigal Writing, partly because I had some extended thoughts and partly because the WordPress comment window would not allow me to post any thoughts there (might want to look into that, Tasha!).
Finding a Mentor
Being of an introverted, relatively self-sufficient nature, I really didn’t go out seeking mentors until I was 30. As some Asian philosopher once put it, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I suppose that was true in my case. I had finally reached a point where I realized I needed to learn more about the theory or practice of my career, and I found that, in my general ramblings during idle chatter in the office, one person gave responses or advice that fit my sense of things better than anyone else.
I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me much, having been raised in a rather large matriarchy, but that mentor turned out to be a woman. She was also about as opposed to my politics as one can get without coming to blows. But on the issues that really concerned me–questions about my career direction, personal development, creativity, and other matters of a professional or personal nature–she was and continues to be dead-on right. She understood instinctively the sort of advice I needed as a writer and was able to furnish it through having “been there, done that.” She’s also a great cheerleader in times of pain and distress.
Another important thing about finding a good mentor (at least for me): I needed to be comfortable enough to let her give me advice that was painful but necessary to hear, even if that advice caused me to question some of my basic assumptions about my current predicament. And this mentor–I don’t think Dede would mind if I typed her name in the clear–is more than able to give me that sort of advice.
That doesn’t mean we have to vote the same way. 🙂
Being a Mentor
Maybe it’s the beard, my age, or my station in life, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where friends have started directing young English majors or writers my way to offer insight or guidance on becoming a technical writer. Now what’s interesting to me is that I have yet to have a second discussion with any of these young people, yet I’ve become a default mentor to several peers near my age, some older than me. I often get phone calls from someone seeking advice on this or that aspect of the specific job we’re in (communicating for NASA). The information I’m imparting can range from general to specific knowledge about the space business, suggestions for how to organize information, or requests for how to say/write something.
So do I qualify as a “mentor” for these peers? They could probably answer that better than I can, but if they think of mentors as I do–people with the experience or skill to provide advice on particular questions–then I guess I qualify. Mind you, most of these folks probably wouldn’t ask me for advice on romance or child-rearing (subjects about which my knowledge is sketchy at best), or even how to vote. But on matters that count on the job, I do a fair job of pointing them in the right direction. And really, that’s the point, right?