Part 16 of 36


A “Hero’s Journey” includes a mentor of some kind. Generally, these are characters who guide, protect, motivate, or train. The mentor can appear in a variety of ways and occasions. A mentor may use a gift as a lure to get the hero to accept a challenge or as a treasure after a hero proves his commitment. The mentor can be someone who provides encouragement to a hero who is hesitating to pave the unknown path. An example of this is the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz giving Dorothy the red shoes and guiding her toward the Yellow Brick Road.

The position of a mentor may be occupied by a physical person or it could be an inner guide such as a conscience, a code of honor, or a righteousness for justice. It could be an object of great importance such as a religious text or insight into a present situation like a realization. A mentor can be a memory of your experience like words your parents used to say often. It could even be a past mistake you made that made you feel guilty.

Working with a Mentor

It is not always easy to work with a mentor. When we have a mentor, we are in a position of knowing less or having less experience. It’s a humble place where we can learn or grow from someone. Admitting to a fault or immaturity may be humiliating but it is the first step to reaching a higher level. Perhaps the mentor is not someone who we care to deal with or want to be around. Sometimes we don’t even want to hear our own conscience or parental voices in our heads or hearts. How we respond to the mentor makes the difference. If we accept the guidance, we can have an uplifting experience of growth or a deeper realization of life. If not, we may feel frustration, resentment, or regret.

The best mentoring situation is when there is a common base and a higher purpose for the relationship. For instance, in Big Picture Learning schools, students are placed on job internships where they work with a mentor in a field they are interested in. Not only does this allow the student to get real world accountability but he or she can make a contribution. The fieldwork builds skills such as communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. This training is not something the students can study for and pass overnight. Instead, they learn practical skills along a with deeper learning of life skills. The mentor teaches work ethic and models what it means to be an adult in the community. At the end of each internship period, the mentor fills out a work personality profile, so the student can see how his or her performance was viewed by the mentor and what areas he or she needs to improve upon.

Needing Help

When we lived in the Federated States of Micronesia, we had use of two boats. Through fishing we could serve the community and facilitate character development through what we called “ocean challenge.” One time my husband, Ray, had a boat full of about ten college students who were interning as teachers at one of the island’s high schools. Also onboard were our twelve-year-old daughter and a dad of three small children. They all had an invigorating sunny day on a distant sandy island. On their way home, at dusk, the GPS lost its signal just as they were approaching one entrance through the coral that surrounds the main island. Since it was getting dark and he didn’t want to hit the reef on the way through that route without the help of the GPS, Ray decided to go on ahead around the outside of the coral in the ocean staying somewhat close to the reef. That way he could proceed through the main channel ahead that had the lights to show the way.

As the sun descended, the waves got higher and higher to the point they were crashing high over the side of the boat. When it became pitch black they couldn’t decipher how fast or slow the boat was moving. One young adult, who had a flippant attitude all day, became scared for his life and desperately seasick. The normal thing to do when you’re seasick is to vomit over the side of the boat. This young man wanted to hide his weakness, so he hid in the cabin. Unfortunately, without air, you get more seasick, so he vomited inside making a disgusting mess where it was difficult to clean up.

As Ray approached the main channel, he noticed one of the lights was out. In the darkness, he could not discern if it was the first light or second light that was out. The worst-case scenario is to misjudge the distance away from the coral and crash. He tried using a bright light, but it didn’t help. Instead, flying fish jumped into the beam and onto the boat causing a ruckus. So, as they rocked in the darkness, Ray signaled for help to be guided through the channel. By this time almost everyone was freaking out. Ray had to tell the other dad to calm down. It was interesting to see how individuals reacted to the crisis. Our daughter was taking initiative and stayed in control of her emotions. Another person started a prayer while others were wailing that they were going to die. After a while, a small boat arrived and one of the native fishermen guided them in without incident.

True Heroes

True heroes are those who can think of others even when their lives are at risk. The reality is we are all in different stages of growth and how we react to situations is different. This is the benefit of having a mentor — to have the example of a more mature person. It is especially valuable in an adverse situation to have a mentor who is strong and will not waiver from the goal to be accomplished.

To be a mentor may not be natural or easy. It is the ethical responsibility of the mentor to keep a high standard. The mentors for the Big Picture Learning schools are given an orientation and limited training but the day to day dealings, teaching, and guiding may require the mentor to grow alongside of the student. There may be times when the student doesn’t really want to be mentored so the mentor must be creative to succeed in influencing the student. Other times, the environment may not be conducive to mentoring like when employers feel there isn’t ample time to discuss or deal with situations. All relationships take work, but the benefit of that investment should produce fulfillment, honor, and joy.

In a study of how people grow from experiences that test their skill to overcome obstacles in life, young people:

…agreed that support that was merely a display of comfort was not enough. Instead, they needed adults to be okay with their struggle, to help them sustain the courage to live at the edge of their comfort zones until they found resolution. This was the type of support that also helped them believe in themselves.*

For us to grow, we need to feel uncomfortable in our situation. Through that unsettled feeling we seek out help to grow. Mentors who have gone the course or are at least a little more advanced can direct us toward the appropriate path. During these times we look for meaning and examine our values.


Who inspires you to do more or challenges you to change? How?

What experiences have you had with an internal mentor such as a conscience, a memory, a code of honor, or guilt?

Was there a time you tried to conceal a weakness when it could have been resolved easier if you were open about it?

What activity were you able to break through because of a mentor?

How was it being a mentor for someone else?


*Price-Mitchell, Marilyn. Tomorrow's Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, 2015. Eagle Harbor Publishing. P. 106-107