The secret of great mentorship

Emma Stoks

🙋🏼‍♀️ Dearest you,

In an ever-changing world, it's easy to grasp onto rules and the only right ways to do things. Often this impulse has more to do with creating the illusion of control than anything else. Rather than clinging ourselves to illusions, there are two things we can look at for guidance:

  1. Our values

  2. Examples of the embodiment of those values.


Our values are not a camouflage for moral laziness. On the contrary, they are directive and commanding standards upon which we hold ourselves. What it means to act aligned with those values, however, is dependent on the context. Being loving, for example, can mean both setting rules and giving freedom. It can mean both to share everything you think or wisely hold back some of your thoughts and opinions. In order to know which behavior to choose in which situations, it helps to have a mental library of examples to follow. Something like a mental oracle that you can ask the question 'what would .... do?' at any given moment.


We don't choose who we are born to. I must say that I lucked out big time, but unfortunately, not all parents are able to set a great example (for whatever good or not so good reason). As we are naturally inclined to mimic our parents, this means that we get conditioned to behave in a way that may not be what we deem the best or even good.

While we have no choice in who our parents are and often limited choice in who teaches us, our mentors are the rare occasion in which we get to choose from whom we want to learn. When we choose our mentors we claim our second chance in choosing our examples.

What a mentor is

What distinguishes a mentor from a teacher is the things they teach. A teacher might teach you skills or knowledge, or help you gain insight. They can even teach you a specific mindset or attitude. A mentor doesn't really teach. And if they do it's a negligibly small part of the impact they have on a mentee.

A mentor is an example of the person you aspire to be. As I was reading David Brooks's description of a wise person in The Road to Character. I realized his description fitted my definition of a good mentor precisely.

What a wise person teaches is the smallest part of what they give. The totality of their life, of the way they go about it in the smallest details, is what gets transmitted.”

The secret of good mentorship

I think it's a secret among all good mentors that they know it's not them you are striving for. They are just an example. Over the past years, I've come across people that saw a younger version of themselves in me. Each time I was flattered by the compliment at first. Then I realized it wasn't really a compliment. Seeing someone as your younger self is at best a well-intended projection. A mentee is never a younger version of the mentor. A mentee is always his or her unique self with similar values and aspirations as the mentor. Good mentors know that.

Their teaching and answering your questions in some way is just a vehicle to show you who they are. What do they believe? What do they deem important? How do they keep going? What happens when they don't know? Do they lose hope?

The greatest gift a mentor can give is not to teach everything she knows. The greatest gift is to empower the mentee to be an even better example for the next generation. To help you become an even better embodiment of your values. That is what paying forward is. Not a transaction from one to another, but from one generation onto the next.

Have a great week,

FIND ME ONLINE: emmastoks.com

COME SAY HELLO: Gillis van Ledenberchstraat 76 1052 VK Amsterdam 

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