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Mentoring for the future

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Simon Edwards, founder of Mowgli, the not-for-profit online mentoring network says if ever there was a time for mentoring to take precedence it's now.

My definition of mentoring is a relationship that inspires, guides and empowers another in achieving their potential. It is about wanting unconditionally the best for another person, getting alongside them while they discover the best in themselves. They draw on the wisdom of experience to challenge and guide their mentee towards achieving their goals. The context for mentoring is limitless. I have used it in prisons, in schools and now mentoring entrepreneurs in the developing world. Interestingly the nature of mentoring remains the same: it is simply the act of one human being getting alongside another to help them along the way.

The Elton John Aids Foundation has produced a book whereby celebrities write a letter to their sixteen-year-old selves passing on the wisdom of life. It is a great idea, but indicative of a society where we have ceased to value the wisdom of age, as we constantly pursue the new. Yet within the human condition nothing is new. Read Shakespeare and you will find as much that is relevant to the human condition now as it was when he wrote 400 years ago. One of the gifts that the older generation can pass onto the younger is mentoring. A good mentor will see things in a younger person that they can’t see in themselves. They can play an important part in finding ourselves, our passion and following it through to living a fulfilled life.

"The key is being you and finding that one thing where your natural talent meets your passion. Sir Ken Robinson calls it your element. I call it your own perfectly shaped jigsaw piece where talent and passion combine."
Let me start with a story of a young man, Luke, who was down on his luck. He had no job, no home, no money. He was living on the street. He was feeling suicidal. Six months later he was transformed. He had a job, a smart suit, a flat and a girlfriend. He was asked what had happened to bring about the transformation. He related how he had decided to end it all, but before he did he wanted to hear his father’s voice just one more time. When he rang him, it was as though his father knew. Son, he said, when you get to heaven you will discover the man you were meant to be. What a frightening thought. We could drift unconsciously through life and then discover at the end the person we might have been if only we had pursued our destiny. Our individual destiny is to ‘be’. To be the best we were born to be and the best way of discovering this is through mentoring.
The word confidence comes from the Latin word confide – to reveal the truth within ourselves.  Now it is interesting most adults have no idea of their true talents. They bump along through life unfulfilled doing what they think is right rather than what they are passionate about. Yet a few love what they do and live life to the full. They have that inner confidence. What makes the difference? Being good at something is not a good enough reason for doing it especially when you are constantly striving to fulfil the expectations of others. The key is being you and finding that one thing where your natural talent meets your passion. Sir Ken Robinson calls it your element. I call it your own perfectly shaped jigsaw piece where talent and passion combine.
Life is simply about discovering the shape of your piece and then seeking out those pieces with which it fits. It is essential for human fulfilment and the pursuit of that elusive word ‘happiness.’ It is also essential in terms of finding personal authenticity, integrity and a moral compass which allows us to respond to the challenges of life in the right way. But it is also essential for the health of wider society. If people are disconnected from themselves they are more likely to cause problems to themselves and others. So confidence is not the shallow kind often displayed by those who lack it. It is a deep inner confidence that comes from being comfortable in our own shoes. We know it when we see it.
"Our individual destiny is to ‘be’. To be the best we were born to be and the best way of discovering this is through mentoring."
At some point you are going to have to step outside your comfort zone and take a risk if you are truly going to find yourself. The future isn’t inevitable. Each one of us can shape it as we want. Some people only discover themselves later in life often through some sort of crisis when they are forced to take a risk. Others are self-aware and respond to that little voice inside which is often buried deep. It is the voice of our true selves crying out to be heard. The clue is in our dreams. What do we dream of being? Often we convince ourselves that we are not good enough, worthy enough to follow our dreams and we end up following the herd. I have discovered that the first secret is to take the risk of articulating your dream. Once you do so a magic occurs that allows you to start the journey towards achieving it. As some wise person said ‘You can live your life dreaming or you can give your dream some life.’ 
The key is finding a good mentor to support you while you take that risk, usually someone older and wiser who has taken a risk themselves and lived to tell the tale. Traditionally the role of mentor was fulfilled by parents or elders, but increasingly it has become somebody outside the family who is able to get alongside you and help you see for yourself those gifts that you take for granted. 
If ever there was a time for good mentors it is now. Michaelangelo was once asked where he found the inspiration to create the wonderful sculpture of David. He said ‘I did not make David. I revealed him in the stone. All I had to do was to remove the parts of the stone that were not David and reveal the perfect David.’ That is what a good mentor will do for you. Reveal the perfect you that exists inside all of us.
 
With a former career in management consultancy and business coaching, social entrepreneur Simon is a the founder of Mowgli, a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to harness the power of mentoring worldwide – inspiring and nourishing entrepreneurship and the building of sustainable economies through the creation of aspiration, jobs and opportunity – towards the goal of alleviating poverty. Read Simon's blogs at www.simonedwards.me.

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