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 learned. If 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.
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.
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.