I’m working my way through the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man series. (Whether a butch neutrois counts as a ‘man’ or not is up for debate, but despite its heteronormative writing style, most of AoM is applicable regardless of sex/gender.) And Day Three has me stuck.
Day One – ‘Define your core values’ – took effort, but was hardly impossible.
Day Two – ‘Shine your shoes’ – required actually buying shoes, but I can only live with one ratty pair of running shoes for so long anyway.
Day Three – ‘Find a mentor.’
So what do you do if you live in the middle of nowhere, are incapable of going out to meet friends/family/mentors on a regular basis, and even if you could every ‘respectable’ potential mentor you know violates at least one of your previously-defined core values at every turn? I’d not want a racist/*sexist mentor anyway, but having ‘justice and equality’ as my number-one value really slams down most of these people as a possibility.
A few options:
1. Find someone online who’s willing to mentor through Skype/email. This is probably the closest to AoM’s ‘find a mentor’ recommendation, but still only works if you’ve got some mentor-potential friends online. In my case, I tend to interact with people who are at about my skill level in almost every area I’d want to improve, and I can’t imagine this is particularly unusual. Finding someone who’s mentor-level better is easy enough – there is The Internet, after all – but contacting a total stranger for something as regular and time-extensive as mentoring feels a bit skeevy to me. Never mind anyone found online is likely to be relatively famous (at least Internet-famous) enough to already be getting gobs of one-shot emails and not likely to have time to mentor some random Internet fan.
2. Sign up for a class which includes a tutor, or which has few enough students for you to have a chance at regular personal interaction with the teacher. ‘Teaching’ isn’t quite ‘mentoring’ (though it does have some overlap), but if a proper mentor is out of the question anyway it’s probably the next best thing, especially if you can strike up a steady relationship with the tutor/teacher over time. I’ve seen spiritual, personal growth, writing, and business courses all available for relatively long periods of time with small classes or individual tutors, and I’m sure there’s similar examples in other areas. The main drawback with this is it’s almost guaranteed to cost money – at the very least the teacher needs to be paid for their time, and the smaller a class is, the more likely it is to be expensive. If you’re short on cash, this can be a complete dealbreaker.
3. Create an ‘imaginary’ mentor based on a fictional/historical person. Somewhat in the vein of ‘what would Jesus do?’ – learn as much as possible about a particular individual and apply their wisdom to everyday life. Jesus works, but is not the only possibility. Ben Franklin is also popular for this, probably because of his 13 Virtues and various proverbs. It’s probably much easier to go with someone like Franklin (who clearly wrote out what he thought was important in life and why) than someone who didn’t keep such records. Likewise, the more famous someone is, the easier it will be to find information on them. Gretchen Rubin’s written a post on imitating a spiritual master which follows this idea.
4. Follow someone for their advice (even without being mentored by them). Like the imaginary historical/fictional mentor, except with someone who’s still alive: read and learn as much as possible about them and figure out what they would do in a particular situation. Especially with people who regularly blog about growth in a particular area, there’s plenty of useful information – Michael Hyatt’s site is a great example of this. He blogs about growth in a variety of areas, has plenty of guest bloggers to give different perspectives, and the ‘cookie’ given as an incentive to get people to sign up for his newsletter is an e-book on creating a life plan. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and mnmlist also runs good blogs which can be read by people looking for personal growth.
With living people, there’s an edge over historical/fictional people in having a chance to contact them (maybe not as frequently as a ‘proper’ mentor, but certainly more so than a dead one) or read their reactions to current events. Of course there’s also the temptation to treat everyone who regularly dispenses good advice with equal importance and end up with an overloaded Twitter feed and bloated RSS reader.
As for me: A straight-up ‘WWJD’ never worked for me as a kid – I inevitably waited until the answer was ‘avoided this situation to start with’ to even ask the question – but a concentrated effort to learn from other people might at least get some good ideas stuck in my head. There’s also a year-long correspondence course (complete with tutor) I’ve been considering starting for some time, and now seems as good a time as any to do so.