Monday, November 17, 2008

Exercise of the Week: Reaching Out to Role Models

There's a lot of talk these days about the importance of finding a mentor, a trusted adviser who will reach down and lend you a hand as you climb up the ladder of your dreams. (In Greek mythology, Mentor was the person Odysseus charged with watching over his son Telemachus when he set off to war.) But what do you do if you don't know such a person? How do you locate a mentor? If the prospect of looking for one intimidates you (as I think it would me), you might want to lower the stakes and begin by seeking out role models.

FIRST, think about people in your field you'd like to emulate, or who might be able to help you in some way. If you don't know anyone who fits this description, cast a wider net. Use the Internet to do some research. Sign up for a conference sponsored by a professional organization associated with your field. Attend a lecture. In other words, use all the resources at your disposal to identify individuals who have excelled in your line of work.

THEN, be bold and contact one of them. E-mail is the easiest way to reach out and solicit advice, but you can also call. You should be respectful, of course, of others' time. But most people are flattered to be approached. You'd be surprised how many will gladly help you if you just ask.

FOR EXAMPLE, a couple of weeks ago I spoke at a middle school. Today I received the following e-mail from one of the students:
I have a question. I will start writing something like a short story, and then I'll finish it, look at it, be proud, you know. The whole 9 yards. But then I'll look at the same thing a few days later and go "Wow, this sucks. I really need to rewrite this!" And I do. And I don't know if that's normal, or just my craziness from reading too much Stephen King. Hope to hear from you soon.
Here's my response:
Absolutely normal. I just came back from attending a talk by Joyce Carol Oates. (Google her if you don't know who she is.) She said that she does the same thing. Distance really helps when it comes to writing. And rewriting is more than half the effort of producing something decent. So you're on the right track.
As you can see, there's nothing fancy about this exchange. I was tickled that the boy reached out to me and delighted to reply.


  1. How rewarding when a child reaches out to you! I loved it.
    I also have found the internet to be a source of inspiration for me... like finding you, Prill! Your blog and posts always contain something to inspire me and keep me follwing my dreams.

  2. Psychologist says that one caring mentor can, in a child's life, make up for very poor parenting. My husband mentors high school seniors through the college application process. There are all kinds of ways--something to match every interest--for people to get involved this way.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

    PS. You readers might be interested in the segment on my blog that gives resources for contributing to the lives of our soldiers. Scroll. It's near the bottom.

  3. I believe strongly in this concept. I work with the GirlTech mentoring programs in the OK Career Technology system and I have seen the successes.

    Thanks for the post, Prill

  4. Yes, how true what all of you are saying. (Thank you, by the way, for the links to your websites.) One caring individual can change a life.

  5. I am a true believe in mentors (as you know!) Mentors have had significant impact on the things I've achieved and learned. But the flip side of having a mentor is to one day take hold of the baton and become a mentor. One of the greatest ways I spend time is mentoring, whether in a formal setting or informally. I continue to learn and grow from my mentees on this side of the fence!

  6. Yes, Anne, I so agree. As a matter of fact, I almost ended this particular posting with a comment about how we all have something to give and the joy of mentoring others. In other words, even though we might need/want mentoring in one area of our lives; we have other areas in which we have enough knowledge, experience and/or love to be able to mentor someone else.