Search This Blog

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Find A Mentor

Why would I consider apprenticeship? That began with a college experience.

I had previously had the experience of adopting a mentor with a professor named Dung Fong Lee at U.S. International Univ. in Poway. I was in the habit of "checking out" my teachers before taking a class. After sitting at the back of this teacher's office all afternoon, I observed to him how I now understood the confusing comments I had gotten about his teaching style from his previous and current students. He seemed to radically change his persona to suit the needs of each student, (joke & storyteller, factual info dumper, sparklingly polite conversationalist, bumbler, impolite psychologist, political leader, confessor) without being concerned with presenting a consistent identity. His reply was that he believed this ability to be the mark of an excellent, flexible teacher - and that I probably also had this ability because I had noticed it in him. This began a very interesting relationship where he allowed me to hang out with his family and included me, (and my boyfriend at the time) in his social life. He also taught me Chinese at a breakneck pace for seven weeks. (Since he decided I already knew the content of a introductory class on the I Ching that he offered; he proposed I learn something else.) Later he offered me an opportunity to travel to Taiwan where he would continue my Chinese lessons and set me up teaching English. But I wasn't able to accept at that time, as I would lose the remainder of a four year college scholarship. (One of my life's regrets!)

I believed Lee and I crossed over into a personal relationship partly because he was from another culture and how the USIU college had been intentionally structured to encourage such behavior. Probably my being orphaned as a teen also had something to do with it. So that is how I found out how the apprenticeship experience could go far beyond the content of what was being taught. The few situations where I adopted a position of apprenticeship happened in the course of my various work projects, but later I got the nerve to propose it barefaced... (By asking, "would it be OK to ask you a few more questions again later?") Of course, the questions and answers became more elaborate as they had the inclination and time to teach me and as I showed more interest.

The next mentor I adopted I found by landing a job doing illustrations for a sales booklet of a solar design sales course for a sales manager, Chuck Lewis. This was a presentation meant to be displayed during a home sales call by a troupe of salespeople to introduce hot water solar panels to customers. He was also writing a book of aphorisms about life lessons, and needed a cover illustration. We spent quite a bit of time together because he wanted to explain the book to me so I'd understand how to make the cover...and we enjoyed talking with each other. Then he began to write another book, (eventually titled "You're Gonna Love It!") about sales, so he wanted to talk to me about that too, to help him write the book because he said I was his "perfect customer" that he wanted the to be written for. The book grew from our personal conversations about how to teach sales to people who formerly had assumed that selling and marketing was vulgar and beneath their ethics about how people should be treated. He also taught me quite a bit about telling jokes and how to invent them, which seemed to be a supporting subset skill of salesmanship.

Another person I routinely called where he worked and jokingly asked for the "Terry Delsing School of Comedy." (Which of course, was not where he was really working. But his boss put up with it.) Terry would tell me a joke. I would figure out why it was funny, change around the particulars and tell him the joke I'd just invented. It only took less than five minutes a call. We did that ongoing maybe once a week for a couple of years until I spaced out calling him for too long.

My next mentor, Ray Belange of Apache Signs, came from attempting to paint and fabricate signs as a business. The way I found and adopted Ray as a mentor is the most easily translated to any genre.

I had developed this strategy, when I wanted to learn to do something practical, to call up people cold out of the phone book who were in the business of doing what I needed to learn and asking them a few questions about it. The first few people I asked about what was the proper terminology for the field; the next few I asked how to phrase useful questions I could ask other people and so on... My reasoning that people were willing to answer a few questions was sound, because they were busy at work, and I was asking for free advice. So I just kept calling different people until I had the whole picture, (short of actually doing it.) As I got involved in the process of doing it and hit a snag, I'd call again on those people who seemed willing to talk with the the first time around because some time had passed. They seemed interested in my progress too.

Ray was someone who, as I explained my thinking about what I was trying to do, recognized that we thought alike in an unusual, original way. Turns out, he had expanded on the same idea I had independently originated too. So he invited me to his shop and not only showed me how he'd designed his way past the questions I had, but where to find suitable materials, how he had expanded and innovated how to use the materials, where to find new customers, as well as the joys of riding on motorcycles in foreign countries and living in RVs and warehouses as a lifestyle. (He had raised five kids as a single parent that way!)

Since then, I've hit on the idea of contacting admirable authors and volunteering to help them in whatever way I could be useful. In return I've gotten many free perks in the form of trades of me writing reviews for their book which they sent me helping them using my writing abilities in exchange for their lessons in an ongoing way. One time a mentor I had contacted like this put me in the hot seat of representing them as a tele-workshop host, despite not being trained formally by them. This experience taught me that I had an unusual proclivity for talking coherently, being a high idea producer when everyone else had run out of idea, all while tending the engineering side of an online workshop, (being a natural multi-tasker) which was a talent that I never knew I had, (but Barbara Sher had recognized the ability in me.)

So - mentoring needs a dream - a focus that's practical involving what you are trying to learn to do. Then you ask for help - a little at a time. You find examples of skills you admire in people who enjoy offering the benefits of their experience. You don't admire them, but ask them specific questions about what you'd like to do, encouraging them to be the authority and to think about how they do naturally what you cannot do. If they have other students, you offer the benefits of what you're learning to others who aren't as far along as you are. As you show interest by involving yourself in what they love to teach - you're on your way to learning something and having an interesting relationship with them. Sometimes you're in the position of giving them an idea of how and what to teach others that they couldn't imagine before they met you...

1 comment:

  1. Because of requests, I'm going to expand this post into an e-book.
    Can you reveal what made you curious about it that you'd like to hear more about?