Silent Mentors

The traditional approach to excelling at anything involves learning from someone who’s where you want to be. If it’s a creative goal, it’s from those who’ve achieved success and share expertise through explanatory mediums or via their work.

In past times, one gained a skill or craft by apprenticing with a master. Often this was a slow process, lasting years or decades before the apprentice becomes independent and on their way to becoming a master. While such arrangements still exist for some skills or trades, a creative’s path today beyond formal schooling involves finding a formal or informal mentor to work under.

While some are fortunate to find a formal mentor to work with, there is still great value from the informal path. I have several silent mentors I follow to learn from informally since of course they have no clue I even exist. Even though it’s a one-way association, it’s still beneficial for me to improve in areas I’m pursuing.

On things philosophical, I read Ryan Holiday’s writings. His book The Daily Stoic (Amazon link, but please buy from your local indie bookshop) is one of my morning rituals that helps keep me grounded. In these pandemic times, I credit this silent mentor for my renewed ability to focus on things I can control while staying detached and insulated from those I cannot.

On things literary, my learning path is broader with a coven of writers I glean wisdom and practices from. My primary informal writing mentors (not all whom I learn from) are currently Mary Oliver, Mary Ruefle, David Whyte, plus self-paced courses from Diane Lockwood. It’s no coincidence that these are primarily poets.

Early in my adult life, I believed that once one mastered something, learning stopped and only doing continued. How wrong I was. Through later experiences in meeting and knowing many who were masters at various endeavors, did I learn they all had at least one thing in common: they never stopped learning, whether from their mentors or from mentoring others. Every master likely also has a mentor, and every professional at anything is constantly learning from someone else.

If you want to improve or excel in a life pursuit—doesn’t matter what it is—find a formal mentor if you can, but otherwise choose some informal ones. In time, you’ll be skilled enough to pass on the favor by mentoring someone else.

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