The One Shortcut That Exists in Life

Mentors can steer you away from the kinds of mistakes that are going to make you  waste a year or two of your life.

All of us are looking for shortcuts in life.  We want to be able to take a pill that will make us smarter or find some formula that will make it so we don’t have to go through 10,000 hours.  Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. 


But mentorship is the one and only shortcut that exists in life  And the reason is if you find the right mentor for whatever field you’re in, they’ve made mistakes in life and they learned from them.  They can steer you away from the kinds of mistakes that are going to make you  waste a year or two of your life.

They’re gonna be able to see how you operate in the present and give you the kind of feedback that is gonna help you practice better.  They call it deliberate practice in the field where you practice developing what you’re weak at.  Only your mentor really is gonna be able to see what you’re truly weak at and give you that real time feedback.

There’s another element of mentorship that’s really powerful but it’s almost not – you can almost not put it into words.  We humans – our brains are developed from learning by watching other people doing something.  I talk in the book about mirror neurons which Vilayanur Ramachandran discusses a lot.  The idea that we’re capable of putting our minds into another person and act and thinking as if we’re inside their body.  We’re able to do that in a learning way.  We can watch somebody do something and we can learn from it.  It’s a very powerful form of learning that predates the invention of language.  

When you’re around somebody who’s your mentor who’s very successful in the field you’re not only picking up the things that they talk about but you’re picking up all kinds of cues from how they carry themselves, from their habits, from their whole way of being that’s a very powerful thing to absorb.  There’s a famous book about tennis, the inner game of tennis, in which he talks about tennis instructors who can’t verbalize the perfect serve but they can show it to you.  And in showing it to you suddenly it makes sense.

Well, that’s what it’s like with a mentor that can show you how things are done.  If you find the right mentor you’re gonna cut out – you can cut out two or three or four years of wasted useless mistakes of not developing what you’re weakest at, et cetera.  So the whole key is how do you find this right mentor.  And in the book I give you plenty of examples and advice on that front.  The main thing is the mentor is almost like a second parent – a father or mother figure.  There’s somebody that you could imagine in 20 years you would like to be like them.  Maybe not doing the exact same thing but you share their spirit.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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