Mentors…the best have no clue of their influence

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There’s no doubt that Sloane Stephens’ Quarterfinal win over Serena Williams at the 2013 Australian Open was a major step in the 19-year-old’s tennis career. Prior to the match, and in the wake of victory (or defeat), most in the press-room insisted on referring to Serena as Sloane’s “mentor.” Both were uncomfortable with the word and actively deflected the reference.

Here’s the reality: Serena isn’t interested in being anyone’s mentor – A fact that I find reassuring; a sign of grounded character. Serena knows that the only person who can determine Sloane Stephens’ mentor…is Sloane Stephens.

Look, a good mentor shouldn’t need his ego stroked just so you can gleen a dose of wisdom from his experience. In fact, “mentor” shouldn’t be a title you bestow anyone.

A mentor is a decision; a personal decision YOU make based on what characteristics, qualities, or attitudes you would like to emulate; a decision that requires thoughtful observation, and decreased self-absorption.

Off the top of your head: Who do you admire most?

Now dig deeper: Why?

Those are the easy questions.

Here’s the tough follow-up: “How?”

How does the person you admire most achieve an aspect of character that fuels your admiration? Answering that question requires humility, curiosity, and a taller observation deck. You need to put the work in, do some research, or better still – spend time with the one you admire.

When I was younger, my dad – my biggest mentor – gave me some great advice: To be successful, always be there, and always be aware. Pay attention to everyone’s character, especially those you admire. Become an individual by adopting the characteristics you admire most in others, while discarding the aspects of character you dislike. Absorb and apply those admired characteristics to build the personality and talents you seek…in your own way, in your own time.

What I’ve learned is that the people who’ve influenced and inspired me the most (my most valued mentors) aren’t successful colleagues, celebrities or pilars in the community; they’re friends, neighbors and positive human beings I’ve been lucky enough to get to know.

Mentoring is not a responsibility, it’s the unconscious example one sets in the eyes of another, influencing character. Simply put, a “Mentor” is just an individual who has helped you become who YOU are, because of who THEY are.

Does it seem obvious then that Serena Williams would be Sloane Stephens’ mentor? Sure! But there’s only one person who can make that…decision.

Now, with all of that said, should someone someday offer to BE your mentor, recommend a licensed therapist to treat the narcissism. Mentors aren’t people, they’re choices. Just ask Sloane and Serena.