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Protege For Hire

Stay with me, I’m going somewhere.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” says either the Tao Te Ching or possibly Buddha—the internet disagrees with itself about the origin. And it further illuminates, “When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.”

Mentorship is coded into our occupational DNA. The tradition, much like knowledge and experience, has been handed down generation after generation.

In our globalized, automated, 21st century though, mentorships are mass produced and digitally delivered. As remote individuals, we’re learning crafts, trades, and belief systems from media moguls and online personalities.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself,” said Oprah Winfrey. And Steven Spielberg would add, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

These days, long-form apprenticeships come from celebrity Masterclasses or trending podcasts where we absorb information at our leisure while cleaning the house or commuting to work. And for quick bites, we’re augmenting mind and skill sets with YouTube clips and TikTok trends. Hashtags and algorithms shape our enrichment. (Or Google guides us to quotes about inspiration and teaching.)

But the mentorships I mean are more artisanal and locally sourced. I’m referring to the hands-on relationship between a mentor and their protégé where knowledge, experience, and direction flow from the former to the latter.

The protégé should be malleable like gold. Unique among all natural metals, gold strengthens any alloy, adopts the qualities of other metals without taking on their foibles, and never tarnishes. With practiced hands of a goldsmith and master jeweler, the mentor incorporates richer elements into the raw components of a protégé and shapes them into polished refinement. The mentor passes on accumulated wisdom and perspective, ensuring their life’s work is not lost with retirement.

Does this relationship have a place in our current employment market? Of course.

Does it need to be as formal as I’ve described? Of course not.

An apprentice should have a willingness to learn, a capacity for growth, and a desire for guidance. Often all a protégé seeks is inspiration and the tools to achieve it. These traits are not just for the newly formed and nascent. But like wine or cheese, our characters also season with age. We have the resilience, experience, and patience that only comes with more trips around the sun.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled,” said Plutarch.

What craft would you share? What lesson would you teach? What fire would you kindle?

“The circle is now complete,” says Darth Vader, "when I left you I was but the learner, now I am the master.”

Okay, that relationship didn’t work out too well—not the best example.

See? We all need guidance. A mentor probably would’ve steered me away from that quote.

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