“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary!”
Many of us may recall the fiery words of Professor Keating to his students in the movie Dead Poets Society. The professor does not just teach English literature and poetry. He inspires his students to dream bigger; he kindles their souls. Urging them to discover the greatness lying dormant within themselves, he shows them a path to become the best they can be.
We may have a Professor Keating in our lives if we are lucky. This mentor could be someone from our school, college or workplace. Or it could even be a loved one. Sometimes, it could simply be an acquaintance we cherish. In fact, Brendon Burchard, an American author and motivational speaker is known to have said, “My best mentor is a mechanic–and he never left the sixth grade. By any competency measure, he doesn’t have it. But the perspective he brings to me and my life is, bar none, the most helpful.”
No matter who we are, or how great our deeds are, we need someone to guide us from time to time. We want someone to believe in us and push us to become better. We want more than a teacher; we want a mentor. Says Carnatic musician Mangala Karthik, “A mentor is more than just a guide or a well-wisher. A mentor looks after our interests, as if it were their own.” She gives the example of Gurukulavasam–the traditional form of teaching, whereby a disciple stayed in the guru’s house and attended to daily chores. This way, the student absorbed as much from the teacher as possible, through both direct and indirect learning. This was done to create an open and trust-filled relationship. Such a bond is necessary for mentoring, Mangala believes.
A strong relationship forged with a mentor then enables the student to be receptive of constructive criticism. Singer Sujatha Iyer believes this is true of her. She says, “My mentor gives constant feedback on my singing–good and bad. This honest evaluation motivates me to do better the next time and get brownie points from him. As his student, I feel grounded and look forward to learning more from him.” Sujatha feels that without her mentor, it would have been impossible for her to make any progress.
Indeed, a mentor sculpts us diligently, so we may achieve our goals. But finding ourselves a mentor is not always easy. While many may be good at what they do, they might not necessarily know how to impart that knowledge to others. Dr R Balachandran, who had studied for a PhD in Chemistry, can relate to this. “During the early phases of my research, I was lost without proper guidance. My seniors took it for granted that as a post-graduate, I would be able to figure it all out myself,” he says. Revealing how he had to implement a trial-and-error approach, he stresses on the importance of mentorship in the field of education. He remembers a lot of his peers just wanting to give up.