I cannot talk about Mentors in an academic meaning, because except for my thesis tutor, with whom I had nothing but a formal relationship, I did not have any tutors who guided me through my growth. But I take this chance to talk about a role that represents a crucial figure in my life and vision: the Master, or the Teacher.
I was talking with a friend about martial arts, in a time when I was feeling disappointed by my teacher and was looking for a different dojo, and he told me: “One life spent in searching for the right teacher, is not a wasted life“.
I respect Masters; that’s why I usually despise people who act like self-made men, and I usually have a great humility and interest towards my superiors or more expert people. You have to trust superiors and expert people. In my professional life, I cannot say that I did have actual mentors; nevertheless there are so many figures who inspired and conducted me, even if just for one small moment or episode. A good librarian who suggested me to take the vocational training in library science. My acting teacher who showed me the power of language and of metrics. Masters and mentors, moreover, don’t have to be saints or heroes: they don’t need to be all like Yoda. Even the most assholes and incompetent bossess that I happened to have were able to provide some example and inspiration: even if I could reject most all the time spent under some of them, I still keep in mind some good examples of vision, of lateral thought, of problem-solving, of responsibility.
There is always something and someone to learn from, everywhere: you just have to be patient, and have that speck of humility to admit that someone knows better. In the end, masters are everywhere if you’re willing to find them. Keeping ears and eyes wide open is the right attitude, as Whitman says in one of my favourite quotes:
I teach straying from me, yet who can stray from me?
I follow you whoever you are from the present hour,
My words itch at your ears til you understand them.
(Walt Whitman, Song of Myself)
I do seek masters as lymph to feed upon. I don’t know if this curiosity comes from my martial arts, or if it spurs from earlier stages in my life, for example my acting school, or other learning experiences. This fading border is not meaningless, because looking for a mentor is actually a life-long matter. There is a beautiful scene in the movie “Rush: beyond the lighted stage” (2010), a documentary about the rock band Rush, in which the drummer Neil Peart tells about taking lessons from the great jazz player Freddie Gruber. One of the greatest drummers in the world, at the top of his career, still felt the need to improve and get better. And he managed to hear new things, to discover new approaches, to put a new sensibility in what he does. The movie chapter happens to be called The Yoda of Drums.
Mentors will change, as you and your life situations change, but you will always be looking for someone to look at as inspiration and paragon.