Vanelli wrote a great article about asking for a mentor, having a mentor and finding a mentor. It made me think about the other side of that. What about BEING a mentor?
Why be a mentor?
In teaching, we learn. It’s something a photography mentor of mine said quite a few years ago and it’s stuck with me. Teaching is one of the best ways to learn. Whether it’s going back to basics or researching something you’ve been asked that you don’t know the answer to. You’ll add to and grow your own knowledge base as you teach someone else.
Are you already always helping someone, answering questions, finding answers for them or connecting them with people and/or resources where they can find the answers and help they are looking for? Perhaps being a mentor comes naturally to you and you just haven’t realized it or looked at what you do in that way.
Return the favor or pass it along. You had help, right? You’ve been mentored, or are still being mentored and you feel like you want to pass along what you’re learning, what you’ve learned and how it’s all helped you. Maybe it wasn’t an actual mentor but someone, somewhere along the way has likely helped you in your own journey.
My mentoring story
I will share my own mentoring journey with you, I believe that I’m not likely alone in how I got to where I am. Several years ago as part of an online mentorship group, after having already gone through a couple of other online mentorship programs (which were free on Google+ back in the day of Google+) and one in-person workshop. I joined another online mentorship program, became part of two amazing cohorts led by two of my photography friends who have been and still are mentors of mine. During this time I watched, took in how and why it all worked, what made it work and how things ran.
Through all this, I also became a helper. Initially, I just helped on my own. I saw questions I could help answer about how things worked within the platform or other questions on the side of photography that I had already been doing for several years. Things I knew answers to or knew the right place to send people for information. Not in any sort of “Hey, I have all the answers and know everything” way but in a try this, it worked for me and might help you way. Then I was asked to help. I was hesitant for several reasons but I accepted.
What’s stopping you?
Do these statements sound familiar to you?
I’m afraid of failing.
I’m afraid of succeeding.
I’m afraid of being found out that I’m a fraud (imposter syndrome).
I’m afraid I don’t know enough.
I’m afraid I’m not technical enough.
Who the heck am I to be doing this?
And on and on…
These are all the things that stopped me from being a mentor and also from pursuing my photography as more than just a hobby. As my time in these mentorship communities went on, as I continued helping others it became a bit of a joke. I was dubbed the Accidental Mentor or the Reluctant Master.
Self-doubt is huge for many of us. We easily talk ourselves out of doing this and other things. I did. I don’t create epic landscapes. I don’t rely on Photoshop or use it much at all. I don’t use layers or masks. I’m not overly technical and I don’t want to help someone learn that stuff but it seems like that’s what everyone wants to learn.
We all have something we can offer
The thing is, we are all unique, we all approach life and photography differently. Ask yourself what is it that you CAN offer to help other photographers? There are plenty of mentors out there teaching the technical stuff but how many are helping with the creative side? This is where I found my space and my confidence (still working on that) to make my mentoring official.
What do you have to offer that is uniquely you? Think about it. Do you love to help others? Are you passionate about one aspect or technique in photography? Are your portraits different than anyone else? Are you crazy about macro, infrared, event, wedding or other type of photography? Maybe it’s only one part of any of those. The thing is, your passion will show through, your enthusiasm in passing along what you’ve learned and what you know will infect your students.
For me, the love of seeing others move forward along their path and using my different perspective, point of view and approach not only to photography but to life in general, were the things that I could focus on and help others with.
Being mentored and being a mentor has led to amazing and wonderful things, friendships, adventures and progress for myself and my students. Mentoring others is very rewarding. The satisfaction you get from seeing someone that you’ve helped make their own way, have their own success and improve their craft is reason enough to want to mentor.