I had two professors in undergrad whose shared guidance let me to exceptional growth in the four years I spent with them. Either of them on their own would have been a benefit to my education, but the power of their mentorship styles combined was amazing.
The first professor was the theatre department chair and taught many of my classes. Because I worked in the Speech/Theatre Office as well as served as the House and Box Office Manager for department productions, I spent a lot of time with Jeff. Every time I saw him (it seemed) he had a new project, and that project’s success usually required my attention. Often, it also required skills I didn’t have (yet).
As far as I could tell it never occurred to Jeff that I might not know how to do the work he asked me to do. He assigned it and crossed it off his list as done–in full confidence that I’d figure it out.
He was almost always right. There were certainly a couple of embarrassing mistakes, (beautiful audition posters with the wrong date on them come immediately to mind) as well as a project or two I just didn’t do in hopes he’d forget about them. In those cases he never yelled. He just insisted I personally fix each resulting problem. It was exhausting–and exhilarating.
I could not have asked for more opportunities to do “real” work as an undergraduate. Because of his unreasonable levels of confidence in what I could do I finished my baccalaureate degree with work experience that rivaled some graduate students.
And yet, all that pushing to continually do more might have been too much on its own. Luckily I had another mentor with a completely different approach.
Stan taught my Intro to Theatre class and because he was also the department’s Technical Director counted on me to turn his purchase orders into actual supplies in a timely manner. I never worked in the shop for Stan, nor did I take any of the design or technical classes he taught. And yet, for one reason or another, Stan decided that I was an amazing student with great potential as a future theatre professional. Whenever I needed an ego boost, I went to talk to Stan. When the latest assignment from Jeff had me doubting myself, Stan would remind me of what’ I’d already accomplished. That well placed bit of encouragement was often exactly what I needed to push through to the next level.
You Need Both
I am intensely grateful to the life and theatre lessons I learned from both of these men, but the part of this trip down memory lane that is important to you is that both kinds of motivation are required to do your best work.
You need people and experiences that challenge you to keep going, to never be satisfied with what you’ve already accomplished, to keep pushing beyond where you ever imagined was possible. But if that’s the only kind of motivation in your life, eventually you will push so hard you break.
Therefore, you also need to be loved and admired just as you are. You need to be reminded of your past accomplishments and be able to see yourself in the best possible light. But all that support–without a force to push you to keep moving–makes it very tempting to stop trying new things all together.
Be Your Own Mentor
Finding other people to fill these mentorship roles is amazingly valuable– especially early in your career, but since you are the one person you’ll spend your whole life with, it’s very beneficial to learn to provide yourself with both kinds of motivation.
The first step is to reflect upon your natural motivational style. Do you tend to push yourself no matter what you’ve already accomplished? Or are you secretly (or not so secretly) already pretty impressed with how awesome you are? Which ever style you tend toward, recognize that quality as a gift–chances are it’s working pretty well for you.
If you are a “pusher” keep that part of your personality and add some regular affirmations to remind yourself of how much you have already accomplished. For extra credit, set aside (at least) one day per week for play, self-care, and general celebration of the week’s accomplishments.
If your natural tendency leans more toward the “I’m awesome” camp, but you would like to learn to push yourself a bit harder, simply reverse the process. Don’t cut out the self-care, just add new projects with hard deadlines* to your schedule. Audition for a Play. Submit a proposal to speak at a local conference. Start a blog and commit to a weekly posting schedule. The more opportunities you provide yourself to stretch your skills–especially when you aren’t sure you will be successful, the faster your existing skills will develop beyond what you can currently conceive.
Do you have a mentor whose support has helped make you who you are today? Tell us who she/he is and how your life is better thanks to her/his influence in the comments!
*The deadline is important when you start out because without it your new project is likely to sit on your “someday” pile indefinitely.