Mentorship has become a buzzword lately. Everyone wants to become a mentor, everyone wants to find a mentor, and everyone needs a mentor. But, what exactly is a mentor? For me mentorship can come in many forms, but the most important aspect of any sort of relationship of this kind is that it provides learning. Over the years, I’ve realized that most relationships of true learning come from simply paying attention to the people in your life today. The fantasies we imagine where we meet ‘gurus’ and they are the catalysts to instantly change our lives inevitably seem to end in disappointment. Some of the best learning is often taught by the most unlikely sources. Below is a list of mentorship roles people can take and guidelines for each that I think can help you become a better business owner, athlete, or person if you follow them.
Running a business or making money in the fitness world is a tough thing to balance. Ultimately most of us got into this world because we love helping and we love training, so monetizing that can sometimes feel grimy. However there are so many aspects of the fitness and sports culture; You can help people lean out, get stronger, improve technical execution of strength or gymnastics movements, improve mobility, improve ‘lifestyle,’ improve nutritional quality, improve nutrition, etc. On the business side, you can highlight your gifts as a way to attract people to your ‘methods,’ master the digital marketing infrastructure, open a gym, etc. If you are seeking a business mentor, seek them because their way of making money allows them to do what YOU love. This changes the emphasis from making money to spending your time, which is a MUCH more valuable resource, doing what makes you happy. Avoid listening to people who tell you they are making money doing what THEY love, because ultimately it will only make you happy if you love that same task. I see many people fall victim to the money game. They measure their success solely by money in the bank instead of accumulating wealth while also passionately doing what they love. If you love to publicly speak, find a mentor in the industry who has figured out a way to make a living at public speaking. If you love computers, social media, and the digital world, then find a mentor who can teach you how to monetize that in our industry. If you seek a mentor who will teach you how to make money doing what you love, ensure they have a proven track record for monetizing your passion while also not influencing your brand message, your beliefs, what you spend your time doing, etc. The more time I’ve spent with wealthy mentors, the more it has become clear to me that using money as a scorecard for success can be a very disappointing game to win in the long run. Spend time finding your meaning and your passion and ensure that your integration into the economy is still part of that equation. Again, I’d strongly advise against finding a mentor who makes your worth in monetary terms the entire success of your equation.
The skill of being an athlete is very specific and changes at every level of development. What is required to be a beginner athlete is different than an intermediate athlete, different still for an advanced athlete, and different finally for a professional athlete. Your mentors should change and be appropriate for your level at the current moment. The lessons you can learn from a professional CrossFit athlete on mind state, pain tolerance, volume in the year, etc can be valuable if you are a regional level young athlete who is close to games level, but potentially damaging if you are a beginner. You should constantly strive to pay attention to people who are both slightly better than you, and slightly worse. The process of teaching people directly behind your athletic development will provide many benefits. It will put pressure on you to ensure you are progressing at the same or a faster rate than they, it will make you aware of things you are doing incorrectly, and the process of teaching will refine your own skills. People ahead of you in their athletic quest can teach you even just by being around them. By seeing the comparative differences in what makes them better than you, you can begin to alter your behavior and mimic the beneficial things they do on a daily basis.
The big mistake I find people making when they look for an athletic mentor is they constantly create an arbitrary hierarchy where better athletes are the only people from whom they seek to learn. The more open minded you are to learning from people on all levels of the athletic development curve, the more likely you will be able to learn how to live and perform. Some really ‘bad’ athletes will have great insight into emotional expectations, emotional management, body maintenance, sleep quality, etc., and things they are doing correctly in spite of still being poor performers. They can also teach you about balance so you can avoid burning out by becoming overly obsessed with just training or your performance. So, pay attention to everybody, but ensure you always surround yourself with athletes that challenge you in one way or another.
There are very few coaches who have a broad AND deep level of knowledge. There are so many things to learn in the world of coaching including: movement, technique of skills, sport specific training, psychology, nutrition, strength characteristics, and program design. Most coaches have some level of deep knowledge in one of those disciplines, or a shallow level of knowledge in many of them. You should seek the coach who has the deepest level of knowledge in your largest deficit, or the deepest aggregate level of knowledge in your most limiting deficits. The nature of relationships, though, is temporary and very few of your coaches will be around for the duration of your lifetime. Those special coach-athlete relationships that extend a lifetime will be bonds of shared passions and experiences that grow in parallel over decades. But that doesn’t happen frequently So, be ready when the course of the coaching relationship has ended to move on and find a new mentor. This doesn’t mean your old mentor/coach was bad or that you didn’t learn something, but that you now have a new deficit, and they may not be an expert in that skill. This also means that coaches must gracefully allow athletes to explore the world of coaches to find the best fit for them at that time in their growth process. I don’t think you can build to your potential alone and I think even people who seem ‘self coached’ are constantly learning from other people. So, whether or not you call them a coach matters not, find someone who can act as your guide to layout a path to success.
Most people seek mentors they believe to be ‘gurus.’ They seek people they want to put on a pedestal or who put themselves on one to make the community think they are superior. You may idolize them for their money or their popularity or their accolades or because it seems they have solved the riddles of life, or because they use esoteric words to speak above your understanding and sound official. My opinion on things will likely always change, but at this moment in my life, I can almost guarantee you that if you think about anyone in this fashion you will be severely let down when you get close enough to see them as they actually are. I call this the Wizard of Oz guru effect, and just like the famous story, you will find that most of what was projected is an illusion masking the much more disappointing reality of the human being behind the façade. When you are looking for a mentor, don’t necessarily choose them because they are popular. Don’t confuse popularity with quality. Sometimes the most popular are also the most effective teachers, but most often people’s popularity is actually luck driven, timing driven, business acumen driven, charisma driven, or having to do with something completely unrelated to the skill you truly want to learn. Be leery of seeking mentors who are going to ‘change your life’ because of the vision you have for them in your head. I’ve found the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from these types of gurus in my past were what I wanted NOT to become in my future. Those were valuable lessons for which I am extremely grateful to have learned, but also not necessarily what I was seeking. So, since I have the chance to give advice to a future generation of learners, I would advise to pick your mentors for entirely different reasons than I did in my more formative years. Focus on the quality of one’s character, the body of their knowledge, their willingness to give you their time, their honesty, their desire to continually improve in spite of their already attained ‘success,’ or any other number of things, but not just popularity or what you think they can do for your future.
There is no single person I’ve learned from the most. As I become more ‘successful’ I’ve realized that I’ve learned so much from so many people. I believe the people who have taught me the most, ironically, are the people who were seeking me out in one of those mentorship roles. I think the idea that people are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ based on scores, money, reputation, popularity, etc is dangerous with regards to mentorship and humanity. We are all in this game together, and we all have something of value to offer the world. Unfortunately society’s masses define what is most ‘important’ and we begin to have a sort of collective insanity that makes us sacrifice who we are to chase to the top of that arbitrary dominance hierarchy. I urge you that as you define your quests in life to pay attention to all people. As a student, whether or not you know it, you are a teacher. Find guidance, but most importantly, stay humble and stay learning!