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Mentoring as a Structure and Theme for Life

The strange structure – what is it?

I woke up much earlier this week to a strange structure in my neighbor’s backyard.

I studied it, trying to figure out what it could be.

A shower? A bathroom? A closet? Or perhaps a tiny garden gazebo?

Like a small wooden UFO, it simply appeared, and has been parked there quietly ever since.

Now, there is a small house under construction just across the way. And I happen to know that my landlady’s husband is the general contractor for that house. And it just so happens that my landlady and her husband live downstairs.

But that small structure is still much too wide and much too tall to fit through the front door of the half-finished mini-house behind us.

For that matter, even I can figure out that it doesn’t make much sense to build a usable, useful structure in the backyard, only to have to take it all apart again to get it indoors.

So what could it be? What will it be used for? How long will it stay there?

I have no idea.

These are the types of questions we ask ourselves every day, but not about strange structures in our backyards (at least not most of the time). Rather, we ask these questions about life itself, questions like, “Who am I?” “What am I doing here?” “What is life for?” “What matters to me?”

We also ask ourselves these questions about our recovery. “What makes doing the hard work of recovery worth it?” “Why do I want to recover?” “Will I ever recover?” “Who is with me on my recovery journey?”

Here is where working with a mentor can really help. While our mentor might not be able to give (or may wisely refrain from giving) us quick answers for the small, strange, and deep life questions we are pondering, a mentor can certainly take turns holding the flashlight and discussing which way to turn next. A mentor can also share lessons from their own journey that can help infuse our own still-unfolding path with early meaning and wisdom.

In my favorite mentoring book of all time, Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”, a young poet sends some poetry to Rilke (who is quite a famous poet at that time) and asks the master the question, “Is my poetry any good?”

Rilke refuses to answer, telling the young poet he must discern that truth for himself. But they do begin a dialogue about life, love, vocation, society, passion, dreams, finances, and all kinds of other topics that can infuse a creative pursuit like poetry with meaning, depth, and insight.

Over time, the young poet learns to do two essential things – keep seeking guidance and insight, and wait on himself patiently for answers. He learns to find joy in the journey, the connection, the companionship, the quest itself. He learns not to judge his art, his self-expression, or himself, but to allow it all to reveal at the right moment what it has to teach him.

Most of all he learns to trust – to trust another human being, and also to trust himself.

This is the greatest gift a mentor can give us. Our mentor may not be able to give us the kind of quick answers we are looking for, but they are more than willing to go with us into a neighboring backyard and explore the structures and themes of our lives, throwing out ideas, hypothesizing, and wondering together with us.

Today’s Takeaway: Think of some big questions you have been pondering lately. Have you found yourself wondering if you are the only one who asks yourself these types of questions? Would you appreciate hearing someone else’s insight into how to think through important questions you have? Consider who you might talk to and explore these questions with.

p.s. if you have any idea what the structure might be, I’d love to hear it!

Mentoring as a Structure and Theme for Life

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2010). Mentoring as a Structure and Theme for Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Aug 2010
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