What Makes a Qualified Mentor?

by Dan on August 16, 2009

“Who the hell are you to write a self-help blog?!” a date asked me a couple nights ago.

Rather than defend my so-called right to share my own insights with people, I took the question to heart and expanded the thought.  What qualifies absolutely anyone to write a blog, a book, or be seen as teacher in anything?

Is it success?  I’m not sure if Michael Jordan would be the best basketball coach or if Brad Pitt would make the best guide to working the Hollywood movie business.

Is it knowledge of the field? I’m skeptical of those who build careers teaching something they never mastered themselves.  I called Joe Vitale’s company once to ask about Law of Attraction coaching a couple years ago.  There was an expensive phone coaching package being sold.  I asked if my coach would be a millionaire, and the salesperson made it very clear this would not be the case.

Why would I learn money manifestation skills from someone who couldn’t do it herself?  The saleslady actually had a good rebuttal, that Joe Vitale himself had learned spiritual manifestation secrets from non-millionaires, and used them for his own growth.  Fair enough.

I still wasn’t convinced.

If I got coaching from Joe Vitale himself, maybe that would be more legitimate.  Then again, without knowing his full story, I have no idea how much his genetics, social alliances, and dumb luck played into his success.  Could I really be sure I could have the same results?

This is not even taking into account all the charlatans who blatantly lie about not only their own results, but their students’ results as well.  The internet age has made honesty very costly when competing with over-hyped sales copy on inferior products.  One dating guru I met said that he lied about his successes with women because he thought everyone else did it, as an “industry standard”.  He’d write tips and tricks on meeting women in malls when he’d never even gotten a date from a daytime approach, let alone a girlfriend.

Maybe we should line up a selection of former students and see what they say about the teacher and his methods.  We could ask how they were before signing on for training, and what successes they’ve had since.

This approach doesn’t work either.  For one thing, if money is spent, cognitive dissonance will cause a student to blame himself over the teacher.

“It was a really good course/book/seminar; I just was lazy and didn’t apply myself enough.”  This could be a true statement, but you have to keep in mind that someone will often be more embarrassed about wasting a lot of money than for being lazy after wisely spending a lot of money.

The cognitive dissonance factor will also cause successful students to attribute their results to their new teacher, even if the successes would have happened with or without the mentorship.  Some mentors are even careful to select students they know are on the brink of a success breakthrough, so they will be able to collect a cool testimonial afterwards.

This is getting really difficult, isn’t it?

To make it a little easier, let me give you a story of the most unlikely self-help guru of all time.

A child named Sid was born to a rich father in Beverly Hills.  He grew up in a gated community and was treated to the wealthiest lifestyle imaginable.  He had great food, fun friends, and a totally secure life.  His father owned a multi-national corporation, which would be gifted to him at age 18.

However, instead of staying on the path of a stress free life, Sid decided to go against the grain.  He had ventured just far enough out of swank Beverly Hills to see that not everyone in Los Angeles was living the high life.  He saw people in turmoil over their finances, gang wars, and homeless people dying on the streets.  Somehow instead of running back to his mansion, Sid decided to actually join the painful lifestyle so he could solve it once and for all.

He panhandled on the streets for years.  Sometimes he didn’t eat for weeks at a time, with his only claimed benefit being that he could laugh at hunger.  He spent countless hours meditating, with no money coming in, no girlfriend, and a rather odd bunch of friends who were into the same self-denying lifestyle.

At one point, he said, “I think I’ve got life figured out,” and started teaching others how to live, be, and act.  For the rest of his life, he lived off panhandling and student donations, as he taught people the secrets of existence.

As you may have guessed, I just gave you a modern version of the Buddha’s life.  This was not a story of “rags to riches.”  This was riches to rags!  For some reason, countless people met the Buddha and decided to follow him.  The only evidence of his mastery was his presence and power around them.  Someone could look at him, with his rags and zero net worth, and say “I want what he has.”

To this day, I can’t think of any person to have this many followers attributing their happiness and peace of mind to him.  The closest comparison is Jesus, an example which is severely tainted because much of the spread of Christianity depended on and still depends on threats of eternal torture for denying Jesus’ claims.

Buddha’s take on non-believers was far more gentle.  “If you like your current state of mind, I have nothing to offer you.  If you want to break free, talk to me.”  If you weren’t interested, he didn’t care, and he assumed you’d figure life out eventually in a future existence.

Buddha had a massive following because what he said and did made sense.  His words resonated in the minds of his audience, and awakened something in them they had always understood at some level, but had long suppressed in their lifelong struggles of fears and lusts.

Since Buddha claimed to have the secret to happiness, his promise was easy to verify.  If you felt freer, kinder, and stronger following his teachings, you stuck around.  If you got lazier and depressed, you’d go elsewhere.

With any method or mentor, you must keep an open mind while monitoring your results.  Some of your friends might be skeptical about your gains, and some of your course companions might be over-eager about their own.  You have to be the one to decide and not let yourself get pressured in either direction.

When someone speaks true words of wisdom, their students are liberated and can take powerful action independent of the teacher’s guidance.  A legitimate student-teacher relationship is never co-dependent.  A good mentor will always be willing to suggest other sources of knowledge and wisdom.

In the future I will go into more detail about what makes a self-help program good, but I think this will be a good starting point for a very deep contemplation on how we can get the most out of our resources on self-growth.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Stephen December 28, 2009 at 4:30 am

“A good mentor will always be willing to suggest other sources of knowledge and wisdom.”

True, but a good mentor will also assist his student in learning how to discern truth(s) from lies and half-truths. And a half-truth is more destructive than a total lie, because it’s easier to believe in than a total lie.

Hitler spoke half-truths. He spoke the truth about Communism posing a threat to civilisation, but he mixed it with a lie about Communism being essentially a “Jewish” thing warranting genocide. So, would you advise one of your students to be instructed by Nazis, just because Nazis speak some truths? Or would you warn your student and train your student to learn how to discriminate between truth and lies?

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