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Mentoring: The Old Becomes New Again

It wasn’t all that long ago when learning a trade – such as being a journeyman, baker, craftsman, tailor or smither – in lieu of college (which of course was and still is unattainable to many), meant finding someone under whom to apprentice. As extensive, expensive, and intricate as earning a college degree could be, learning a trade meant doing so first by observation, which could go on for months or longer. Eventually, the young protégé was given an opportunity to apply the knowledge he learned during his months-long period of observation.

It was considered a big deal and quite the honor to be chosen to apprentice under the town’s baker, black smith or whatever. Times were tough. Most people didn’t have money to send their kiddos off to Ivy League schools, and so the only way to get ahead was to be one of the lucky ones to be appointed an apprenticeship. Families enjoyed bragging rights when their son was chosen. “Did you hear? Mr. Robbins picked young Gerald to be his protégé.” This was no small feat and was worthy of such pride and “attaboys.”

Eventually, the apprentice became whatever he was learning to become. In most cases he worked for the man he was learning his trade from and he, like his teacher, became a pillar of his community and was respected. It wasn’t all that unusual for the protégé to grow up and take over the business from his mentor/teacher/employer when he was too old and frail to run things. And, of course, the cycle continued.

While not as prevalent today as they once were, apprenticeships continue to be the way into certain trades. Among them (and this is not an exhaustive list) are:

  • Ironworking
  • Bricklaying
  • Plumbing and Steamfitting
  • Insulating
  • Sheet Metal Working
  • Piledriving
  • Welding
  • Electrician
  • Brick and Block Masonry
  • Pipe Fitting
  • Construction
  • Journeyman
  • Millwright
  • Gun Smith
  • Linemen (both inside and out)
  • Funeral Director
  • Roofer

In general, our society has moved from one of tradesmen to one of industry and intellectualism. There are still those trades that require apprenticeships, but they are outpaced by office work. Training periods at work last hours not months. To learn to become a computer programmer, for example, someone would sit in numerous classes on programming, learn the required math and relevant science courses, and out she comes with a degree, ready to take on the world.

Stuck in Your Career? Call a Life Coach.

Along with the boon in the economy over the last 50 years, services that we expected a learned or seasoned professional to impart to us for free were eventually replaced with ones we assumed we needed to pay for. Let’s talk about jobs people have gotten in offices—whether the result of a college degree or starting at the bottom and working their way up. When office workers needed advice, got stuck and weren’t sure which direction to take, or found themselves wanting to make a career change, who did some people call to best advise them? A Life Coach.

Life coaches were not therapists—although some were retired or former therapists. They were supposed to get you unstuck. He or she made it his or her business to free “coachees” of whatever blocked him or her, unleashing the real person hiding deep inside.

While my late parents might have laughed out loud over the notion of paying this person to “unstick you,” over the last ten years, life coaches rose from a relatively unknown field to an estimated 10,000 in the U.S. alone. And why not? Along with pulling money out of one’s equity to redo a backyard, add a pool or otherwise add value to one’s home, as the economy peaked from 2000 to 2005, having a Life Coach on retainer to the tune of $300 – $700 monthly didn’t seem to faze many people. And we’re not talking about just CEOs and other 7 figure salaried executives. When I was a corporate working stiff, colleagues of mine from secretaries up to directors were employing the services of a Life Coach.

While Life Coaching still exists, thanks to the economy’s rapid downshift people are spending their money on the basics, not the luxuries – you know, survival, eating, avoiding foreclosure, etc. If you were to draw a graph between the incredible rise and subsequent fall of the unprecedented wealth and borrowed lifestyle (thanks to refinancing and credit cards), you will probably also see keeping pace the peaks and valleys of using Life Coaches. As with all fads, what goes up must come down.

The Economy and the Times May Change, but People Evolve More Slowly

People are living and working longer. We have all read the statistics and articles about this. Whether some didn’t prepare well enough for retirement, were caught in the cross hairs of the spiraling out-of-control economy, or simply love working, people are working into their 70s and sometimes older. And in many cases, what people started out doing early on in their careers resembles little what they are doing today.

Sometimes just navigating the rough waters of Corporate America is daunting. Small companies with their limited mobility, and large companies with enough drama and politics to send even the heartiest person to the funny farm, can be reasons enough to seek career advice. Add to it the shenanigans caused by the economy, and it can result in any of the following:

  • Career stalls
  • Smaller raises year over year
  • Being fearful of leaving a dead-end job given the scarcity of help wanted signs
  • Being forced out due to reductions in workforce
  • Mid life career changes or opening a business (if nothing else, to be in charge of your own destiny)

Starting Over

Starting over in life can be seen as a blessing, while simultaneously met with trepidation. Our spirits are resilient. Whether out of survival or some personal unmet goal, most of us have the ability to pick up, switch gears, and do something new. We see this all the time: professional athletes who, because of an injury, have to start all over again and are now coaching, teaching, getting MBAs, or going into business for themselves. Or the marketer who in mid-life decides to drop it all to become a writer; the teacher who discovers he has a keen eye for photography; the IT professional who realizes his life’s calling is to be a dog trainer or you, whatever you were or still are, deciding that off-the-grid living is where it’s at for you.

While anyone making a significant change can certainly go it alone, wing it, even fly by the seat of his or her pants, why bother? With the readily available information on the Internet—take Off the Grid News for example—why reinvent the shoelace? Apart from learning about the myriad medical uses of oregano (which I personally think is one of the best articles I have ever read on OTGN), as with everything in life, there are many more aspects to it, right? So in lieu of spending $700 a month on a Life Coach, which most of us, let’s face it, don’t have, what are other more realistic options?

Mentoring: Yeah Really!

We all get stuck sometimes, don’t we? A mentor can be someone who is in the position you are currently in, the position you envision yourself being in, or someone whose wisdom you find too irresistible to ignore. It doesn’t matter what age you are, how long you have been in your position or how long it will take you to get to your new job—be it off the grid or as … who knows what? The cool thing about mentoring is there are no guidelines to follow and no two mentoring relationships are alike. And unlike hiring a Life Coach (not that I am critical of them), you can be a mentor and be mentored at the same time. The lovely thing about life is that we are truly fallible, and, if we are really humble, someone can help get us where we need to go.

Who can benefit from being mentored?

  • Those who are starting over
  • Those who find themselves stuck in their current position
  • Those who are having difficult climbing the corporate ladder
  • Those who are having difficulty taking that leap of faith to just chuck the old life and live completely off the grid or start a business or…?

What benefit awaits you if you mentor someone else?

  • The idea that you are helping to shape someone’s life for the positive
  • Taking “paying it forward” to a new level
  • Recognizing that all the knowledge you have accumulated in life can benefit someone who is just starting out

How does one become a mentor or look for one?

So glad you asked! Let’s look first at finding a mentor for you. There are several ways. On your job is a good place to start. Look for the person who most represents the person you would love to be. This person could possess the skill set you have been desiring, the job you want, or the inner peace you wish you had.

Perhaps there is someone at church who really moves you—a choir member, the rector, a member of your congregation. And remember, the person whom you can ask doesn’t have to be older than you, just someone whose knowledge and wisdom you are attracted to.

You can also look online. Sounds scary, but if you are into Facebook, there is group still in its infancy that wants nothing more than to match mentors with mentees.

If you are looking to mentor someone, the best thing to do is make yourself available. Maybe you already mentor a troubled teen or the daughter of a college buddy who is just starting out in life, and you’d like to take on another person. Ask him or her to spread the word that you are available to take on a new mentee. Another suggestion is to mention it to your pastor and ask him or her to make an announcement at the next service about your availability, or see if there is something organized through your church.

Wherever you are in life, whether you want guidance, are ready to offer it (or like me, interested in doing both), mentorship is incredible and really typifies the win/win situation.

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