If I sound like a cynical jerk or total a**hole, I sincerely apologize. But to the upcoming generation, stop being a baby! You don’t need a mentor to succeed! Now don’t throw rocks or call me biased just yet. There are many benefits to having a mentor especially in a nontraditional industry and more often I’ve been told through various media that “seeking a mentor” is the next step. Many of these advantages are listed in Ryan Holiday‘s Thought Catalog article “How to Find Mentors.” Swing by there for a thorough read on mentorship. I’m simply here to hopefully encourage you to 1) stop worrying and 2) take action.
Of course you’d want to reach out to someone who has more experience than you, whose mistakes and successes you could live vicariously through, and who could be your shortcut to making it. Sadly, those people are probably busy and have more important things to do than teach someone. I’ve watched countless colleagues from school and peers in the community sitting around not doing anything. And when I ask them why haven’t they made any moves yet the conversation generally goes something like this:
Watching those around me take zero action frustrates me. Schools spent the majority of our lives training us to be spoon-fed tasks and solutions. They’ve gotten us to the point where thinking outside of the box is unimaginable! Nowadays we waste time reaching out to others for solutions instead of discovering answers themselves. I see so many fresh-out-schoolers investing time into crafting emails, social media blasts, résumés, portfolios, etc. in an effort contact their mentor/internship of desire that yields zero results. Honestly investing that time into your own work would be more fruitful. Granted you might fall on your face and be smothered with failure, but you can be sure that you’ll learn a thing or two in the process.
To be even more misanthropic, most of the time those seeking mentorship are way too self-entitled.
If you email a total stranger to ask them to commit to give you hours of their time over a period of years and demand that this gift is to be called a “mentorship,” you’re going to be disappointed. – Ryan Holiday
Personally I’ve been on both sides of the fence. There was a period of time when I’d go through all the photo rep agencies and email their roster of photographers seeking mentorship and got no responses. And through fellow entrepreneurs, creative types, and my own hustle our schedules are expected to be packed insanely. Packed to the point that even if we wanted to take on interns there wouldn’t be time to properly invest into them. Or in the process of teaching a specific task would cost double the amount of time it would normally take to complete the task.
It works both ways as mentor you’re expected to pass on knowledge and hands-on experience. As an intern/apprentice you’re expected to well for lack of better words competent free labor. If both sides aren’t satisfied efficiently and effectively this relationship will not work.
Understand and Don’t Be Lazy
Now to get my point across I am making a generalization that outreach to industry leaders is hopeless, but understand that failure to secure a mentor isn’t the end of the world and I’m not saying that having a mentor is bad either.
[highlight]Shoutouts to my college days mentors[/highlight]
[highlight]John Yao of SimplyTwo Photography[/highlight]
However, it’s important to realize that our time is limited and you can’t wait around hoping opportunity is going to conveniently fall into your hands. If you can’t find a mentor/teacher –no problem! Because life is actually the greatest teacher in existence. The only difference is that it gives us the test first, and if we fail then it gives us the lesson. If you really want to succeed and progress you really have to take it into your own hands to be actively learning. There are many available free resources out there: libraries, a magic question answering website called Google, online interviews/TED Talks/Podcasts, books [Books to Read] (if you can’t/don’t want to spend money on books sit on the floor at a Barnes and Nobles), and there’s another resource called trial and error. For me a lot of my early learning process looked like:
The process of learning is addictive. In my mess of scribbles from above I’d constantly be self-educating myself and in the process I’d often find other subject matters that interest me. This turned into a never-ending loop of learning! All the random knowledge I collected somehow eventually would combine into ideas, which then would become photoshoot concepts.
Not having a mentor isn’t the end of the world. Don’t be lazy. Be actively learning. And to prove that I’m not a Scrooge I will leave you with Ashton Kutcher’s recent speech from the 2013 Teen Choice Awards. The good part starts at 1:42.
I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work. – Ashton Kutcher