Mentoring is a contact sport.
No question about it.
When it comes to inviting another person into our life to offer solicited feedback, advice, and guidance, we are guaranteed to feel some amount of discomfort – most likely in equal measure with any relief that is brought through the opportunity for a shared journey.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in “Letters to a Young Poet,” the book I would put forward if there were ever a nomination for the award of “all-time classic mentoring text.”
As we have been exploring some of the many nuggets of mentoring wisdom revered poet Rainer Maria Rilke offers to his young poet/mentee, Franz Kappus, in “Letters,” we have also repeatedly discovered that serving as a mentor is a task that is equally as difficult as being mentored.
This is because the mentor is often asked tough questions – questions which may not have an easy, or any, answer.
Questions that the mentor is still asking.
Questions that come with so much pain, longing, suffering, and heartache attached.
Questions that, even if they do have an answer, will not be understood if offered to the questioner.
These are the shoes a mentor stands in. The mentee stands there as well. Together, they investigate why life’s difficulties are worth exploring, tackling, and even eventually overcoming.
To illustrate this point, in one of Rilke’s responses to his young mentee’s letters, he writes (emphasis added):
“Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.”
As Rilke encourages Kappus to trust in what is difficult, he references a facet of our humanity that we are not often – if ever – even aware of.
We will always and forever strive to be ourselves – no matter what obstacle may stand in our path.
Rilke suggests that “being ourselves” IS difficult.
This is how it is supposed to be.
If life – if living as us – feels difficult, then that is how we know we are taking our chance to live seriously, and making the most of the opportunity.
Is this reassuring? Possibly.
Is it helpful to know? Most likely.
Is it going to make living life, living as us, and enduring the necessary difficulty that that task may entail, any easier?
That, as Rilke reminds us, will be entirely up to us, and how well we can remember that in our natural state, we welcome difficulty as our birthright and the sole pathway to discovering who we truly are.
Today’s Takeaway: Hardship comes to all of us. No mentor comes to the task of mentoring unprepared by their own hardship, and no mentee seeks out a mentor without the presence of hardship. It is clear that difficulty brings tremendous gifts. What gifts has difficulty brought into your life? Where can you begin to feel gratitude for life’s difficulties, and the chance to, through difficulty, discover the essence of YOU?
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Last reviewed: 24 Jan 2011