I often get asked if I have had any mentors along the way in my life and career. I'm not sure if I'm right with this, but I feel like this is a very American question to ask.
Here in America, there is this clear model for mentorship. It's basically walking up to someone and asking them if they like to be your mentor. I don't remember it being that extreme back in Germany, or at least it was more subtle.
Looking at it from this traditional perspective, I've never had a dedicated mentor. I never had someone I was meeting up with on a regular basis. There was never someone specific I called a mentor, or asked to be my mentor over a period of time.
For me, a mentor can be anyone. Mentors come in and out in your life and can be anyone from your close friends, someone you look up to or even your own child. Most of my mentors so far I don't know personally. Those people are either not alive anymore, or they just do their thing while inspiring me with their actions and words from far away.
Mentors come and go. To make someone your mentor you don't have to ask them. You simply make them your mentor.
Some mentors are passive, some more active. There are many mentors in my life who do their job by just being who they are, and sometimes I have no intention in even meeting them because I like the passive relationship we have.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward
Some mentors stay over years, some only last for a few days. It's important to "kill your mentors" and move on. You should get as much benefit as possible out of a mentor. Use them as much as you want because that's what they are there for. Never feel bad about it, and move on whenever you think the time is right.
The relationship between you and a mentor will always be out of balance. A mentor will always give you more than you will be able to give back in return, and that's OK. Your mentor most likely has their own mentors, so there is at least some balance in the overall system. And never forget, you are likely a mentor for someone else.
I personally like the idea of choosing and picking my mentors whenever I like. I even prefer it if I don't need to reach out to them. Mentors are important. That doesn't mean that we need to have an active relationship with them.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!