The Art of Mentoring
The dictionary defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide” (Merriam-Webster, 2018). We have all been influenced by mentors in our lives-positive role models who have taken a personal interest in us and both inspired and guided us to strive to reach our full potential. Pause for a moment and identify one or two of your own mentors who have had a positive impact on your life. In my own case, I have been inspired by wise friends, counselors, special teachers, bosses, and in recent decades, fellow authors.
Mentorship is, indeed, a central theme underlying the successfulness of AA, Al-Anon, NA, and other Twelve Step recovery programs. As addiction professionals, many of you are undoubtedly grateful for the compassionate, tough-minded guidance you received from counselors, sponsors, and other Twelve Steppers who selflessly gave you the loving support and guidance that enabled you to secure a strong foothold in your own recovery.
Personal Experiences with Mentorship
Throughout my teens and adult life I have been blessed with numerous mentors who have helped me along the way. I was pretty messed up from my mid-twenties through a good part of my thirties, and was fortunate to receive compassionate sup-port from gifted therapists and supportive friends who helped me navigate an extremely trying period of my life.
Looking back on my high school and college days, I am deeply indebted to a number of truly inspirational teachers. I am par-ticularly grateful for two wonderful professors during my undergraduate years. I took a business writing course from a profes-sor Carl Rosner, whose passion for the subject helped me discover my own talents in that area, and no doubt inspired me to delve more seriously into writing later down the road. Likewise, my business law instructor
Dr. Howard Bash was so motivating that half of us wanted to go to law school by the time we finished his class. While I never pursued a legal career—though I was, however, accepted by both Harvard and Columbia law schools—Dr. Bash’s love and pas-sion for his subject matter, and the personal interest he took in his students, was totally inspirational. He somehow roused me to “light a fire inside myself” and sparked my determination to do something truly worthwhile with my life.
Later I developed a friendship with an author, Dr. Steven Farmer, who recognized my own potential as a writer and inspired me to write my first book, The Wellness-Recovery Connection (2004). To this day he remains a constant source of inspiration and encouragement in moving forward with my latest writing ventures.
I look back with fondness to Steve Denys, a high-school-era friend back in New York who was like a big brother, providing a much-needed example of a truly grounded and self-reliant person. We both moved westward and lost touch for several dec-ades. About ten years ago we were reunited by a mutual friend who had also relocated to the west. As before, Steve served as a strong friend with a real take-charge attitude. A few years following retirement from my day job, I prevailed upon him to share with me his street-smarts as an “investment junkie.” He took me under his wing and taught me the ins-and-outs of suc-cessfully managing retirement investments, an area in which I had previously been blocked by my intimidation.
More recently, over the past year and half both my wife and I have become involved in mentoring our young adult grand-daughter Amber, who has been staying with us since she moved out here from California. This has been and continues to be an extremely rewarding experience for me, as I have never had any children of my own.
Pointers for Mentoring
Over the past several decades we have increasingly become an overly secular, “me first” society obsessed to the max with personal gain. We are so caught up in the fast lane that we have lost sight of values that are truly important. Far too many peo-ple go through each day totally numbed out, devoid of any real sense of purpose in their lives. Advances in electronic commu-nications are in far too many instances eroding the art of face to face communication. Next time you are in a restaurant, look around and see how many couples are busy texting and e-mailing other people while totally ignoring each other. Young people are becoming increasingly isolated and cut off from meaningful social interaction, as a consequence of their addiction to their smartphones and iPads. At the same time, the rate of depression and suicide among our nation’s youth is truly alarming.
In this deeply troubled world there has never been a greater need for mentors to serve as positive role models, while providing inspiration and guidance to others in need of direction. In addition, the rewards of mentoring others yield huge div-idends in terms of psychic gratification.
Assuming you would like to broaden your involvement in mentoring others, where do you start? I would strongly suggest asking yourself, “What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?” and let your heart be your guide.
It is also important to ask, “What special gifts, talents, and insights do I have to offer, and how can I apply these attributes to help enrich others’ lives?” An example that immediately comes to mind is my wife Ann’s decision to volunteer as a reading tu-tor at a school in our community. Meeting on a weekly basis with a young male student, she forged a very supportive connec-tion and guided him in writing and illustrating a series of short essays as a term project. As she promised, we assisted him in developing his work into a book. I typed the essays, we incorporated his illustrations, and we even had the University of Arizo-na Press format his work into a real book with his photo on the cover. In short, through my wife’s caring mentoring, her student made great strides in developing increased self-esteem, together with the confidence that he could really do something with his life.
Another area where one can have a deep impact on others is through serving as a health and wellness mentor. If you have successfully recovered from a devastating illness such as a heart attack, stroke, or cancer, you are in a position to serve as a powerful source of inspiration for patients currently struggling with that problem. Health-related agencies in your community, such as the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, will welcome your assistance in this most important area. Likewise, if you are a former smoker who has successfully kicked the habit, you can provide valuable support and guidance to others who are struggling to free themselves from nicotine addiction. This is a particularly needed service in the recovery community, as half or more of alcoholics and addicts entering recovery are smokers who have carried this life-robbing addic-tion over into their recovery. They truly need your help!
In this article I discussed severe problems of social isolation, despondency, and lack of purpose plaguing our country’s youth, who are growing up in an increasingly depersonalized and highly competitive society. Teachers are overwhelmed with problems presented by these children and teens, many of whom are products of extremely dysfunctional families. If you are retired, you might consider serving as a much-needed role model for these kids by doing some substitute teaching. Many addi-tional outlets will extend a wholehearted welcome to caring adults who want to serve as role models for troubled youth. Such organizations include youth programs of churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions; community agencies serving troubled youth and their parents; and programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
In short, there are endless opportunities for mentoring others who will benefit from you sharing your life experiences and support. As I alluded to before, the best way to start is to ask yourself what gifts you have to offer and let your heart guide you to those areas where you can truly be of help. As they say in AA, “You’ve got to give it away in order to keep it.” Until next time—to your health! c
About the Author
John Newport, PhD, is an addiction specialist, writer, and speaker living in Tucson, Arizona. He is author of The Wellness-Recovery Connection: Charting Your Pathway to Optimal Health While Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. You may visit his website www.wellnessandrecovery.com for information on wellness and recovery trainings, wellness coaching by telephone, and program consultation services that he is available to provide.
Merriam-Webster. (2018). Mentor. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mentor
Newport, J. (2004). The wellness-recovery connection: Charting your pathway to optimal health while recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.