In the last 24 hours I have had two important conversations with two people I consider to be mentors. Perhaps it is something lost in the translation of the new millennium, but having a wise, trusted counsellor in your circle of friends can be such a blessing when you are trying to gain ground or to reflect upon what you have just accomplished. It seems that my generation lost out on the value of mentoring when it was consumed by Human Resources Departments across our country as a way of offloading training employees. The real value of mentors comes from a mutual shared passion and the hope that the student can build on the advances and wisdom of the mentor; it strives for us to stand on the shoulders of giants.
My first and most influential mentor has always been R. Porter. He taught me how to see the world through the history of art, through the assembly of colours and mediums, and his slide collection made me want to travel the world collecting images of the great civilizations. He inspired me to buy an SLR camera before my first trip to Europe – even if I ended up buying a ridiculous, but waterproof, Canon AE1 instead. He taught me the value of properly matting art, archiving everything you do, and that a personal library was worth it’s considerable cost. He nudged me towards my graduate degree at McGill, and has remained a sounding board for all of the 15 years I have known him. Perhaps most importantly though, he has had the wherewithal to tell me when I am wrong, when I am lost or when I am arrogant. I may not have always heard him, but I have always listened, and that made all the difference.
Another mentor I found was in J.C. Smith. As a songwriter and producer, J.C. comes into contact with hundreds of artists every year and the work done in his studio is professional and prolific. Watching him adapt to the challenges of the music industry and continue towards success has taught me so much about the value of perseverance; he knows that success lies in enjoying the creative process, in constantly creating new work and in getting it out there for the world to judge. Don’t worry about what the world says in its judgement though, as today’s chump might become tomorrow’s diva. He also taught me that I should get paid for my work, and that I needed to learn how to value my art. I like the way he does thing and the way he treats people.
Finding a mentor is not an easy task, if only because in today’s world so few people want to give the time to foster anyone’s efforts other than their own. As a professional teacher, I know the weight of educating others, and that, despite the emotional drain, it is one of the most rewarding things to do. I learn just as much from my students as they do from me on any given day. In my life thus far, I have also been fortunate enough to have former students prop me up, teach me to see the world as it really was and to remind me of who I really am. I can’t imagine there being any greater reward for a person, mentor or not.
For the past month, I have been watching a free online subscription to KelbyTraining.com, where I have been learning how to take better photos, use all of my lights, redesign my web presence and learn the business. Truly, the opportunities to learn from one’s armchair have never been greater, but in the end getting out there and meeting people is still the best way to grow. Perhaps I should add that I do learn from every single person I come into contact with; some people teach me simple things and others give me entrance into their worlds. Learning should never end, as it so enriches our daily lives far beyond the monetary value we ascribe to so much these days.