Over the past few months, I have made my first foray into being a mentor and have found it a wonderful and rewarding experience.
I have been a mentee before myself many times, with varying degrees of success (it's about finding the right mentor rather than any mentor), but when I was first starting out in the theatre industry aged 20 I had little guidance and did not know where to seek support. Granted, I had years of training and development before that, as a performer at the inimitable Playbox Theatre and the National Youth Theatre, which gave me a good idea of what the industry was going to be like (scary, ruthless, and unforgiving were some of the impressions I got). But when I ejected myself out into the working world, there was no one professionally to support me. I wanted to change that for someone else and offer mentorship to a beginner pro bono.
Who to mentor? I did a call out on Twitter for a mentee and was delighted when Grace Dickson got in touch. She was exploring producing as a career and starting to launch her own production company. Here is someone who I could help. I advised Grace on how to approach the business and financial aspects of running her own production company and how to balance ‘passion’ work and ‘paying’ work, something which most people who work in the arts as freelancers need to learn to manage. Here is an excellent blog by a former performer if you would like to learn more about this balance. I was surprised to find that the relationship was as beneficial to me as it was to her. My practical advice genuinely seemed to benefit Grace, which was rewarding for me. However, an unintended side effect of the mentor/ mentee relationship was that it boosted my confidence: it reminded me of the depth of knowledge and experience I have in my industry. This may sound basic, but when you are, like me, working alone, it is easy to be so focussed on the challenges in your immediate environment that you forget to reflect on how far you've come.
Small age differences I enjoyed that Grace was around half a decade younger than me. Having a mentor who is significantly older than you is great for big picture thinking and long- term life planning, but someone who is one step above you on the ladder can be more approachable for day-to-day questions such as ‘which bank should I set up my business account with?’ My answer to anyone in the U.K. is Starling – I have recommended them to so many clients I should get commission 😉 – and ‘how detailed does my business plan actually need to be?’ These questions were discussed colloquially, rather than in a formal teacher/ student style conversation, which can occur in mentee/ mentor relationships with a large age gap. For clarity, I also think that large age gap relationships are also wonderful and rewarding, just in a different way.
The future of mentorship I was talking to U.S. based entrepreneur Wendy Diamond in December 2020, and she is beta testing BeMyMentor, a platform which has the vision for everyone in the world to have access to mentorship relevant to them. It is so important that the mentorship is tailored to what the mentee wants to learn. I have certainly suffered experiences of mismatched mentorship in the past – a teacher who discouraged me from a career path they did not understand, an older collaborator who knocked me down just when I needed supporting. Both happened to me in my teens and early 20s and chipped away at my self- confidence which I then had to rebuild. Perhaps Wendy’s platform BeMyMentor could include some online webinars on how to be a good mentor: how to enable and encourage rather than inadvertently discourage. This, I am sure would save a lot of heartache. Go forth and mentor To everyone who can: start mentoring. Even if it is for an hour a week. I left each mentorship meeting feeling energised and more productive. Let me know about your positive or negative experiences as a mentor or a mentee in the comments section below. A relevant article to this one is a feature on me for ArtsProfessional.com where I list my five career ‘gurus’ and why they inspire me.