The Mentor's Journey

I sing of internships and the mentor.

You might be familiar with the concept of the "Hero's Journey," as popularized by Joseph Campbell in the mid 1900s.

Why am I including it in an article about mentorship? If I’m being honest, it’s partly to justify my decision to read The Hero with a Thousand Faces at the beginning of this year. It was a trek — one that I stubbornly refused to abandon, even when it meant wading through passages like this:

“The asceticism of the medieval saints and of the yogis of India, the Hellenistic mystery initiations, the ancient philosophies of the East and of the West, are techniques for the shifting of the emphasis of individual consciousness away from the garments. The preliminary meditations of the aspirant detach his mind and sentiments from the accidents of life and drive him to the core.”

The style is a tad bombastic, but there's something strangely freeing about Campbell's description of the stories and characters we love.

When it came to writing this article, I made a conscious decision not to focus on the more practical aspects of mentorship — the type of curriculum I used, the things I learned about structuring productive 1:1s, and how to deliver feedback. Don't get me wrong. All of that is extremely important, and I'd love to compare notes if you drop me a line. I'm just not sure we need another "how-to" or "benefits-of" article about mentorship.

It's easy to find information on how to mentor someone. It's hard to find anything that talks about what prevents us from being mentors.

My own hesitation about being a mentor during our summer internship program had nothing to do with lack of information, and everything to do with, well, fear — fear of being a horrible teacher, fear of letting Kayla (our amazing copywriter intern) down, fear of looking bad in front of my coworkers.

The hero’s journey model suggests another way of looking at mentorship. It is decidedly not a “how to,” or a list of 7 Tips to be the Odysseus of Your Office (which doesn't sound great anyway). It's an acknowledgment and (in many ways) a celebration of the sheer amount of effort, outside help, and failure it takes to do anything worthwhile.

It gave me permission to do something that I wasn’t sure I’d be good at by placing the emphasis on the process of growing (for both the mentor and the mentee), rather than the process of succeeding.

What you're about to see is my experience with mentorship. It's not the way it should be done, it is simply a description of how it happened and what I learnedIf it doesn't help, you may at least find the quotes entertaining.

Note: The quotes attributed to "Campbell 1949" are taken directly from The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The Mentor's Journey

The Call to Adventure

Campbell • 1949

“The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure, as did Theseus when he arrived in his father's city, Athens, and heard the horrible history of the Minotaur; or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent as was Odysseus, driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god, Poseidon.”

me • 2019

The hero did not go forth of her own volition. On a chill evening in late winter, a benign agent (known as Creative Director Ally Fouts) appeared where the hero was reposing in a large beanbag. “Greetings, O mortal,” spake the Creative Director, “how would you feel about mentoring an intern this summer?”

The Refusal of the Call

Campbell • 1949

“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in by boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.”

me • 2019

Walled in by a total lack of confidence in her own ability to mentor another person, the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action, and begins to repeat phrases like “really, though?”, “I feel like that’s not a good idea”, and “I’m not ready for that, but thank you so much for thinking of me.”

Meeting the Helper

Campbell • 1949

“The first encounter of the hero's journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”

me • 2019

The first encounter of the hero's journey is with a protective figure (in this case, the same Creative Director) who provides the adventurer with the curriculum she designed for creative interns, advice, and a much-needed pep talk.

Challenges and Temptations

Campbell • 1949

“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again.”

me • 2019

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in an intensely real landscape of curiously fluid and ambiguous definitions for conducting a good 1:1 with one’s mentee. Dragons have now to be slain, and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again.

The Abyss

Campbell • 1949

“The abyss...requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult.”

me • 2019

The abyss requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself — brought on by inevitably making an embarrassing mistake with one’s mentee.

The Transformation

Campbell • 1949

"Those who know, not only that the Everlasting lies in them, but that what they, and all things, really are is the Everlasting, dwell in the groves of the wish fulfilling trees, drink the brew of immortality, and listen everywhere to the unheard music of eternal concord.”

[I’m beginning to regret direct quotes]

me • 2019

Those who know that failure doesn’t have to ruin everything (that it can actually be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your mentee) dwell in the grove of wish-fulfilling Google Docs, drink the brew of AeroPress, and listen everywhere to the unheard music of the office Sonos.

The Ultimate Boon

Campbell • 1949

“This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of Zeus, Yahweh, and the Supreme Buddha, the fertility of the rain of Viracocha, the virtue announced by the bell rung in the Mass at the consecration, and the light of the ultimate illumination of the saint and sage. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven.”

me • 2019

This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of the mentor who realizes that somehow, despite everything, the mentee appears to be learning something after all.

The Return

Campbell • 1949

“The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet or the ten thousand worlds.”

me • 2019

The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of writing a blog post about all this stuff.

Epilogue

Now that the internship is over, a few people have asked me if I would mentor someone again. I’ve said yes, but here's the thing: I don’t think I actually have much of a choice.

If I want to grow as a professional (and as a human), then I have to invest in other people — in teaching them and learning from them.

The same thing is true for our industry.

Our success as an industry, and as individual agencies, is inextricably linked to the investment we make in the people we hire.

If we want to grow, we need to make a commitment to the people we hire. Are we simply giving them the tools they need to do their job, or are we giving them the people (mentors and managers) they need to become better at their jobs? On the flip side, are we giving mentors and managers the resources they need to invest in people without completely exhausting themselves?

Mentorship doesn't just happen. There is no shortcut — no way to skirt responsibility, investment, risk, failure, all the things that we, as humans, very often want to avoid. Mentorship is not easy, but it is worth it, and more importantly, it is necessary. 


Huge thanks to Andrew Greeson and Amy Townsend for turning my whiteboard scratchings and Dante references into a beautiful, accessible Hero's Journey diagram. Campbell would be jealous.

Thanks, also, to Ally Fouts, who came up with the idea behind this blog post during a conversation about the Hero's Journey...right after I complained that I couldn't decide how to write the blog post. Like the incredible mentor she is, she helped me see what I didn't even know I was missing.

Elyse Kamibayashi

Elyse is a brand strategist and writer at Viget. She believes that good words are always welcome, and that digital spaces provide unique opportunities to showcase the value of language.

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