Commentary: 5 reasons why you should make mentoring a priority

Porter Gale, guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, 6/10/13

Last week, I was an invited guest at an entrepreneurial program for underprivileged youth. I was one of 20 mentors that visited the school for two hours of conversation and speed networking. Some of the mentors and the mentees shared their experiences. Five reasons why you should make mentoring a part of your life follow:

  1. You can fit mentoring into your schedule. Mentoring others is an attitude and lifestyle choice. You don't have to have a weekly coffee with a mentee to make an impact. For example, having coffee with a new graduate or even exchanging an email or two can make a difference in a person's life.
  2. Your efforts could change lives immediately. Jade Barcley, a consultant, shared, "As [the teens] connected with each new mentor during the speed networking, the shift was visceral. You could see it change the way they were thinking -- about themselves, their creativity, possibilities, and about their place in the world. They got visibly more comfortable in their own skin, stood taller, spoke more confidently."  
  3. You might find great future interns or teammates. Even with his airline launching less than a week later, Wade Early, the CEO of Surf Air made time to mentor. "It's so great to see kids with well-articulated goals for where they want to be someday. Since the visit to the school I've already had students follow up with me."
  4. You'll experience growth and learning too. Fran Ellsworth, a Junior Account Planner at Deutsch [Advertising], shared, "It reminded me how far I have come since high school. I was depressed, shy and lonely at times, but always felt I was meant to do great things and inspire people. Being able to talk with the students reminds me to be true to myself and my values."
  5. Your advice can be very action-oriented. Some mentors encouraged the students to make eye contact, sit up straight, look interested and have a firm handshake.  Bobby Deleon, a development executive at Johnny Depp's production company, [added:] "Use technology to spread your message and ideas."

By seeing mentoring as an opportunity to help people, I've discovered these actions change me for the better. What you will find is that mentoring will come back to you tenfold.


A "nested" mentoring approach for working choreographers, young dancers

Lisa Traiger, Dance Magazine, May 2013 issue

When Hannah Fischer graduated two years ago from Saint Mary's College in Indiana, she was nervous about her next step. She had a teaching and performing job with Leverage Dance Theater in St. Louis, but was unsure about what her day-to-day work would actually entail.  She was lucky; help came in an unusual form.  Before she took off for Missouri, Fischer spent a week at Appalachian State University to take part in the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project. Founded in 2010 by Ashley Thorndike, Now & Next unites female college-aged dancers, middle school girls (ages 10 to 14), and working choreographers. For a week, the tweens are led by college students, who in turn experience real-world teaching scenarios -- backed by the professionals. Fischer was able to hone some teaching, programming, and leadership skills while also getting the chance to ask the pros on staff about practical issues, like health insurance and fundraising.  "I call it a nested model," says Thorndike, who developed Now & Next's curriculum while overseeing an educational program at the University of Virginia that paired college women with at-risk adolescents -- without the dance component. But from her own experiences working with modern choreographers (in New York City, Chicago, and Charlottesville), Thorndike knew that dance could be the key to providing adolescent girls with healthy and creative choices. Now & Next doesn't have a single location; universities like Appalachian State offer to host the program. Thorndike hopes to expand Now & Next a little each year. Her challenge is to keep the student-to-mentor ratio as close to one-to-one as possible. "Because the program is so intense, the students are really receptive to feedback," she says. "They are so engaged in wanting to make deeper connections for the middle-schoolers each day."


Commentary: We should focus less on mentoring artists and more on modeling

Playwright Mike Lew on his blog, 5/14/13

What working artists need most right now is not mentoring but modeling. What are novel, viable models for play production? What models for play development are actually effective? More importantly, what do other industries offer us in the way of models we can co-opt for the theater? How can Louis CK's self-produced comedy tour be applied to theatrical ticketing? How did YouTube and Netflix get so effective at distributing content? How do sports teams galvanize such civic pride? Mentorship looks inward to personal history and personal inclinations to find solutions for moving forward, whereas modeling is outwardly-focused. It asks: How do other people handle this problem? What's working and not working in the theater, and how do we fix it? How do we build structures that are useful to artists, how do we engage with the community and with technology, and how can our buildings augment the work instead of putting us under? These kinds of questions are hard to answer from a mentorship standpoint. Plus, as we all know, no two artists' paths are the same. The young artist can ask, "What did you do to get where you are today?" and invariably the answer will be some crazy non-replicable cocktail of grit and timing and circumstance. But modeling is another story. Models can be replicated, iterated upon, and refined. Everyone keeps talks about 13P, not because those writers are all such great mentors (although they are!), but because 13P offered up a startling new model. Ultimately, the biggest limitation on mentorship is we're all in a leaky boat. The mentee asks, "How'd you get out of this leaky boat?" and the mentor says, "Oh, well I scooped, I patched, and I bailed." And maybe that story is somewhat encouraging, somewhat inspiring. But at the end of the day the both of them are still in a boat that has leaks in it. Modeling builds us new boats.


Commentary: How I became my own mentor in a freelance economy

Courtney Martin,, 2/20/12

At 32 years old, I've never had a real job. I'm a serious freelance hustler. [But] I've made enough money over the years to afford health insurance and even buy my own little home. The fact is, freelance is becoming the new 9-to-5, whether we want it to or not. Tom Fisher, writing in the Huffington Post, reports that "contingent workforce," meaning the self-employed, freelancers, or "accidental entrepreneurs" laid off from full-time positions, will make up between 40 and 45 percent of the workforce by 2020 and become a majority by 2030. Early on, I realized this kind of "contingent" work was not going to come with an instruction manual, nor with any one-stop-shop mentor. I've had the support of a clown car's worth of incredible people along the way, but none of them could advise me on all the various bells and whistles that animate my idiosyncratic career. So I've morphed into my own career coach. What does that look like in practical terms? First, I have a strategic plan I revisit once a month or so. Dorky, I know, but it helps me stay centered in the winds of career chaos. If I get job offers I don't have a gut instinct about, I can hold them up to the test of my strategic plan. There is something very powerful about putting things in writing. Once I've written something down -- say, a new skill I want to learn -- I start to walk around with a radar for opportunities to make it happen. It's the organic byproduct of the seemingly inorganic practice of keeping the plan current. The plan also contains my own personal mission statement. When you're a freelancer, it's easy to feel your life is being spent in a million different dribs and drabs. When you've got a mission statement, you have a greater sense of the whole. I know I'm ridiculously blessed to have chosen freelancing and have it work for me. I also know it doesn't come easy. Without the guidance of a supervisor or wisdom of a mentor who understands the totality of my career, I have to be my own mentor, hold myself accountable, and give myself the space to dream.

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