Informal mentoring is initiated by either a mentor or mentoree, may last a long time, and is more of an emotional commitment. It focuses exclusively on a mentoree’s goals. Most often, this kind of relationship begins when two people meet and discover they have common interests. Out of this discussion, a relationship develops and out of this relationship, one person begins to take on the role of listening and providing advice to the other. In essence, the mentoring relationship is born. The mentor can be one’s boss, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, a religious person, a colleague, etc.
These relationships are often emotionally intense, which give them a depth and richness. Perhaps the Legend of Mentor can best illustrate the challenge and opportunity before those who aspire to touch the life of another in this way:
The story of Mentor stems from the Greek writer Homer’s “Odyssey”. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca, leaves to fight the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his household to Mentor, who served as teacher and overseer of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus.
After the war, Odysseus was condemned to wander vainly for ten years in his attempt to return home. In time, Telemachus, now grown, goes in search of his father. Telemachus was accompanied on his quest by Athena, Goddess of War and Patroness of the Arts and Industry, who assumed the form of Mentor.
Eventually, father and son are reunited and together they cast down the usurpers of Odysseus’ throne and Telemachus’ birthright.
In time, the word “Mentor” became synonymous with trusted advisor, friend and teacher. History offers many examples of helpful mentoring relationships, such as Socrates and Plato, Hayden and Beethoven, Freud and Jung.
History and legend record the deeds of princes and kings but each of us has a birthright to be all we can be. Mentors are those special people in our lives who, through their deeds and work, help us to move toward fulfilling that potential.
It is not unusual for such relationships to last a lifetime. It is also the most common perception of what a mentoring relationship is like. In reality, this is just one mentoring model. A drawback to this model is that the emotional involvement can become confused or lead to expectations that are unrealistic due to a lack of training in mentoring, relying on the “best guess” approach. There is also a tendency for mentors to want to create clones of themselves rather than allowing the mentoree to become who s/he can be.
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