Craig Van Horne
Mentoring | A Question of Perspective for Creatives
I know what you’re thinking… “Really… another article about mentoring?” Well yeah, and while I have mentioned mentoring before I haven’t written an article about my perspectives on mentoring, of which, I’m a huge proponent. There is one thing that being mentored by others has done for me, and that is to allow me to recognize more profoundly than ever before how little I know about everything. And that understanding has stoked my curiosity to learn ever more.
There are a couple truths which I’ll dispense with right away. I think that mentoring is extremely beneficial to both the mentor and the mentored, and I don’t think it happens nearly as often as it should, anywhere. I also think that mentoring transcends industry and purpose because, and I fully agree with the perspectives of others who have said this, mentoring is really about learning, about perspective; that mentoring isn’t so much about getting advice as it is about gaining new understandings, of how others think and how they see the world.
For me, mentoring is more a state of mind than it is a formal or informal agreement between a mentor and the mentored. I believe that if we are open to understanding others and growing our empathy then we can learn from even the most cursory experience with another human being. It has also been said before that mentoring isn’t about agreeing with the other person, in fact disagreement can be just as valuable, if not more so than agreement. It’s what we choose to do with that perspective, if we allow it to expand our world view and we apply that understanding to our future decision making, I believe we can be much more human, more authentic and in the pursuit of our goals more effective.
Recently I read an article that said, “mentoring is probably the most trans-formative path to growth, and likely the slowest”; to an extent I would agree with that. However I think that we can reap the benefits of mentoring more rapidly, simply by altering how open we are to another persons perspective in the moment. Often times I will have as little as five minutes or as long as several hours when I’m interviewing someone for a project we are working on. And virtually every single one of those interactions for me, I believe, is a mini-mentorship; I ask a lot of questions and I listen to what this person believes, what they have experienced, and how they felt about things.
It is incredibly instructive, and I take a lot away from these experiences. I have encountered a lot of people who I would say broadened my perspective in a short period of interaction. And there are a few who I would classify as long term mentors, although I have never entered into a formal mentoring arrangement with any of them. I’m not even sure what a formal arrangement would look like, would you pay the other person? or would there be a written agreement? For me the long term mentors have been people who I have recurring conversations with about things that matter to us both and which result in better understanding of a problem and new perspectives.
In fact, while I wouldn’t say that I mentor anyone myself; I do take the time to talk about things that matter with others, both older and younger than myself. I don’t expect anything from it and am happy to do it for those I feel are open to new perspectives. What I find interesting is that after, and often during, those conversations I have been able to view our discourse from the other persons perspective and it feels to me like the kind of interaction that I have been on the other side of. Perhaps in those moments I am mentoring because it is me who is sharing the perspective on a problem.
Once, at a business dinner, I had a conversation with a gentleman who was nearing retirement, we talked about mentoring and what he might do after retiring. My contention was that retirement would be rather boring unless you were doing something that you felt was needed or helped others in some way. We then talked about how not only does the person being mentored benefit from the sharing of experiences and wisdom donned through that experience, but the person doing the mentoring also benefits in countless ways from being open to passing on some perspective and knowledge to help a younger person hopefully make better, more informed, decisions when solving whatever problems they may be encountering.
Our conversation went on for some time, and was quite enjoyable, but he made a comment that for me summed up why mentoring perhaps isn’t more common, he said “the younger people don’t seem to see the value in being mentored.”. My response was quick, I replied that in my opinion it is incumbent on the person with experience to insist on the mentoring. Younger people don’t know what they don’t know, they have no idea what they might learn and how that might help them. Perhaps this lack of understanding comes from a lack of understanding about what mentoring is, that it’s not about helping others solve the problem, just to help them think differently about it.
I think it’s particularly important for leaders in business and the community to insist on mentoring if for no other reason than to help ensure that the company or the community has people in it moving forward who, are going to be taking over from where the old guard left off, are in a position to make the best decisions possible. Because they have perspective. It’s interesting to me that mentoring is sometimes lumped in with concepts like wisdom, and some people believe that wisdom comes with age but it really doesn’t. Wisdom is more about reflecting on our experiences and growing our perspectives from that reflection to be better informed in the future. It’s entirely possible for a twenty year old to have exponentially more wisdom than an octogenarian, it has a lot more to do with perspective than life lived.
So in a way mentoring is more about becoming wiser, younger, because someone with the experience help us gain perspective. I reflect on my own business and wonder how things might have been different if I had been able to gain better understanding years earlier. I remember when I started out in adult life, I worked as a financial consultant and there were several seasoned guys in the office who insisted on taking me out for a coffee, or lunch, and talking about the things that were giving me problems, both in business and in life. I gained some tremendous perspective, however I don’t think I gained enough to understand that I should have spent more time focusing on the quality of the relationships in my life. Then I decided to change my path and move into digital film and video production, and that initially lead to more isolation.
It wasn’t until years later that I encountered some new people who were open and willing to share their perspectives with me that I started to see how much I had been missing. After coming to that realization and understanding that, admitting to not knowing isn’t a failure, it is a liberation of perspective; my personal and professional growth have been tremendous ever since. Oddly enough, I don’t regret my path because I’ve learned from it. I learned what worked, and what didn’t, and to a large degree I’ve been able to identify the why behind both successes and failures. If it weren’t for those experiences and my reflection on them, then I wouldn’t where I am today. And today, I’m quite happy with this place, it’s a place where my curiosity is nourished every single day and more questions come quickly and easily.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals and ambition to reach for more, it simply means that I know what I don’t know, and that is a lot. But it isn’t discouraging, it’s empowering and it truly stokes my curiosity for ever more understanding and perspective. I’ve come to a place where I don’t care if I share my experience and knowledge with others; because it in no way diminishes my value. I’ve found that the diminution lives in those lessons I’ve already learned; their value is lessened for me now because I’m already working on solving new problems; so if my perspective on something that allows someone else to grow, then that’s a pretty cool thing.
In my business of media and entertainment content production, I come across young people all the time who are interested in working in this business. A lot of them ask me how to go about finding their place and getting the job they think they want. Just as my path was likely not the most efficient, I’m sure theirs won’t be either, but it’s not about getting the job they think they want. I tell them that it’s about seeking out the experiences near the jobs they want, and learning from them. Talking to people who are there and being open to seeing those other perspectives. As it turns out quite often, the jobs and roles we think we want, aren’t always the ones that allow us to feel fulfilled and happy in our lives.
Which is also why, I share my perspectives, and I don’t sugar coat the realities of this business as I have experienced them. Whether working as a camera operator, an editor, an animator or any other of the myriad of roles that a person could fill in the business of film and video production; I always tell them that they really need to find passion for that role, it has to satisfy something else inside you for it to be worth it. Working in a creative business like film and video production means a constant cycle of love and hate and self doubt. It also means people shitting on work that you have an emotional attachment with. It’s really not a business for everyone. Which is why I wrote a previous article positing what I feel are the first questions anyone looking to hire or work with a film or video production company, you should like the people.
That also holds true for filling out your crew, and production teams. Creative endeavors are miserable when you work with people who are unable or unwilling to see things from the perspective of others, it’s a very isolating and discouraging place to be when that happens. But when you have people you love working with and everyone is open to ideas, then magic can happen. In a lot of ways, you enter into an informal mentoring environment, when that occurs and it truly can produce amazing results.
Mentoring for creative’s is really interesting when considering it to be more a state of mind than something someone else does for us. That, being aware and making it a point to view the world through another’s eye’s is in fact profoundly influential for storytellers. In a recent issue of Film + Music, published by The Music Bed, an interview with director and author Lenore Dekoven offered an insight that is always right in front of everyone who wants to tell more compelling stories. She said that becoming better filmmakers means becoming better people, that we should be aware of the world around us and really notice things. And she is absolutely correct.
When seeking to tell more impactful stories that people can relate to, particularity with respect to documentary and other non-fiction communications, it’s important to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the subject, to understand their world view, their perspective. I can’t help but feel as though this is all interconnected, allowing ourselves to be mentored is seeing, it is empathy, it is learning. Mentoring is also allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to experience humanity more profoundly, which affords us perspective to tell more authentic stories.
My advice… find mentors, people who you admire, who are ethical and honest, who live their lives in a way that makes you curious to know how they do it. And open yourself to being mentored by them. And don’t just look for people doing what you think you want to be doing, or who are in your business. Some of the greatest lessons and insights will come from places you’d never expect.
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