This will be a bit of a story. Longish. But I put it here, hoping it may help.
A lot of us may come from painful backgrounds and even as adults, never have opportunities to learn what genuine mentorship looks like.
Or what the effect of a mentor is actually supposed to be.
So many of us, even in adulthood, want, long, for infallible models.
And I have been through this. I had someone whom I once looked to as an example of holiness and integrity. I felt dreadful when people expressed doubts or misgivings about Reverand X.
Because...I too had misgivings. I had to keep suppressing my own misgivings to hang onto my vision of Reverand X - vision very many others shared, not only myself.
What I did was to keep quiet if I was with anyone whom I sensed might disapprove of Reverand X and my dependance on him. I even kept this secret from a therapist I was seeing at the time.
I did not know I was protecting Reverand X from scrutiny, the way I trained myself to ignore that my mother was nasty tempered at night and that she always kept a bottle of Gordons gin by the toaster.
I had had to convince myself that my mother and dad were perfect, so I had to work hard to ignore evidence to the contrary--a lot of evidence.
So I was used to having an idea of mentors as people one has to both look up to and at the same time protect from outside scrutiny by skeptics.
Looking to and appreciating someone as a role model, the way an apprentice looks to a master in the craft is admirable and an effective way to teach.
Examples are worth presenting because successful mentoring is usually not dramatic and doesnt fit well into soundbites. It doesnt fit the usual model for movies so one doesnt see it publicized much. When mentorship goes well, it remains private.
Because we have few public examples of healtsuccessful mentorship, I want to offer two examples.
William Osler and another physician who must remain anonymous because he may still be alive.
William Osler, who helped to transform the teaching of medicine and was one of the four founding professors for the school of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told his own students that he owed an immense debt to a physician who had taught him -
The second most influential man in Osler's life was a great friend of the first and the three spent many week-endscollecting and examining specimens. He was Dr. James Bovell, a physician in Toronto and on the staff of TorontoMedical College. Osler later said "To James Bovell andRobert Palmer Howard (Dean of Medicine at McGill) and to myfirst teacher the Rev. W. A. Johnson, I owe my success inlife — if success means getting what you want and beingsatisfied with it ."
The great influence James Bovell had onhis early years can be seen when, during a dull lecture or meeting he would scribble the name of this man in his notes or on the program.
This was Osler'sfavorite form of doodle andit persisted even through his later years as Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford (toward the end of his life-Corboy
But...Dr. Osler was a self starter, someone who didnt remain in his mentor's shadow but who discovered his own talents and become someone who mentored many others - a servant to medicine, yet an original personality, both as a man and as a teacher.
But it is very different altogether, to incorporate someone into yourself in such a way that the internalized person has to be treated as infallible and all perfect.
The greatest mentors are the ones who set an example by being able to recognize their own strengths and also recognize thier own limitations and when they make errors, even serious errors, will set the noble example by admitting their errors and failures right in front of thier apprentices and demonstrate to them how to face failure, admit to error, and how to make amends and in the long run, learn lessons.
In a good relationship one's internalized mentor
should be a model for how to be human and fallible, how to be humane
If a mentor models this, then one shouldnt feel panicked if ones friends dont like your mentor.
I did once after going to the workshop, saying it wasn't for me and that I didn't like Serge, and the friend was very upset.
Treating someone as perfect and internalizing him or her is a very necessary task between ages 0 to about 18 months. But this same attitude will throw a mentoriship off balance.
Mentorship succeeds only if all parties are adult-a mature adult in the case of the Mentor and a younger adult who knows his or her own worth but also knows further development is needed.
Mentorship preserves autonomy in all parties but adds skills that a student can develop further without the presence of the mentor.
Something is off kilter if, in adulthood. it shatters our world if a friend doesnt like our mentor or expresses doubts.
Thats very different from the relationship that William Osler had with James Bovell.
That relationship didnt breed anxiety but confidence and humility - and it set Osler free to become a practitioner who made original contributions. He admired Dr Bovell, but Osler remained a free spirit--he was not an inmate of his admiration for Bovell.
Years ago, in college, I volunteered at a hospital laboratory and was at a conferance.
One of our most experienced physicians faced that he had made a grave error interpreting the pathology of a patient's tissues. Dr X was bitterly sorry and said so.
"I was not thinking
" Dr X said. That was his way of saying he had not paid attention and the toughest clearest way he could put himself under scrutiny and take responsibility for a matter that affected care for a patient.
His colleagues saw his distress and tried to comfort him. Dr X was usually a very formidable man who was tough on others. Here he was being equally tough on himself.
And his colleagues were trying to care for him as a man like themselves.
Dr X kept saying, in front of all of us, including all us students, "I was not thinking
That is a mentor in action. We saw this guy all day long, solving problems that stumped others, and just as able to face it and own it in public, when he had erred.
Thirty plus years later, there may be persons all over the US, possibly the world, who still remember this man, and inspired by him, but who wouldnt feel shattered if others didnt share their admiration.
Dr X could be an SOB and abrasive as hell. That was as much a part of him as his ability to face error and say so in public, where it counted. He assessed cases of persons who had smoking related illnesses and yet he smoked like a fiend and despite his brilliance, gave me an early lesson in cognitive dissonance--he claimed research on smoking and lung cancer was not yet conclusive. (this was the 1970s)
As our mentor, Dr X didnt want us to emulate hiim by taking on his mannerisms. He didnt want us to become SOBs. He didnt want us to take up smoking, either.
He wanted us to learn from him what really counted: the importance of paying attention, thought, and--admitting as soon as possible one has committed error and voice this in front of ones colleagues so all this can be faced as soon as possible.
Because this was a true mentor in action, I offer this as an example.
Dr X could be an SOB. It wouldnt have upset us had our friends disliked him. We saw the qualities in Dr X that existed apart from his SOB-ness.
Those were the qualities we wanted to take as our own.
In true mastership/mentorship, one is free to internalize portions of the mentor while recognizing his or her less admirable qualities and not internalizing those.
The mentor is not infallible. It will not make us anxious if our friends dont like the mentor.
We can keep the mentor AND our friends.