It’s taken me a long time to understand that a mentor isn’t just a teacher and isn’t just a cheerleader. A teacher might not care much about you, and a cheerleader might not challenge you to grow.
A mentor is someone who challenges you because she cares.
Why do Challenging and Caring matter so much? Because these two forces create a sense of accountable belonging.
Accountability without belonging creates sociopaths. Belonging without accountability creates precious little snowflakes. I've been both; it's not a good look.
Accountability and belonging, when they exist together, allow a person to simultaneously see himself as an individual and as something else entirely.
We see this dualism scattered across centuries of philosophy and spirituality.
In Sufism, this is the balance between the Personal and the Divine. In Jainism, this is the interaction between the living and the non-living, the jiva and the ajiva. Taoism called it the yin and yang. Hegel called it the dialectic.
Two seemingly opposing forces exist together to create a truth that is hard to describe, but can only be felt. It’s ineffable.
A mentor evokes the duality of our own sense of self. We are all at once an individual (with our own preferences and desires) and a universe (with its collective sound and dance).
A mentor finds a way to challenge you to bring your best by connecting You the Individual to You the Universe, the observed to the observer.
But you listen because you know the mentor truly cares about your growth, despite the many reasons not to. It’s contagious; once you get a taste of it, you want to share it with others.
An institution is only as strong as its mentors; without them, it’s just a relic of a bygone era. So it’s probably a better idea to seek out mentors rather than to seek out prestige.
While prestige calcifies in space & time, mentorship connects you to something more transcendent. I guess it's no surprise that the word "mentor" itself finds its roots in Greek Mythology.