I Need an Adult: On Searching for a Mentor

searching-for-a-mentor

Wanted: One adult. Must:

  • be able to tell me everything is going to be okay and that I’m not wasting my life.
  • be able to give me tough love and call me out when I’m just phoning it in.
  • like coffee and beer dates and let me ramble on about everything I’m insecure about.
  • know what I’m going through because you have been there before.

When things get too busy or I start to worry that I’m squandering the one chance I have on this planet, I start to feel like I need some motivation. And sure, I have plenty of motivation. But I’m searching for a mentor. I’ve known what I want to do with my life since I was eight years old. But it was a lot easier then to declare that I would be a writer who wrote the best novels ever because I had so much free time. In fact, I’m pretty sure up until college graduation, I had so much free time that I could read and write whatever I wanted.

But then came my first full-time job. Sure, I was just waiting tables/hourly managing for a year between undergrad and grad school, but I did the lunch shift five days a week (at a professional wrestling-themed BBQ restaurant in the parking lot of a Walmart off a major interstate, but that’s a story for another time). I would get there at eight in the morning, unlock the place with my key, go to the office and post credit card payments from the day before, count out the bar drawers, and make sure the manager who was actively stealing from the company didn’t take all the petty cash to the casino when he closed. (Again, story for another day.) Then, at ten, I would go set up the dining room by taking the chairs off the tables where they were stacked, filling salt and pepper shakers, making sure the BBQ sauce bottles weren’t covered in too much grease, and setting up the server station so we had everything we needed for the lunch rush. Then, I would wait tables from 11 AM when we opened until 5 PM when the night crew came in.

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I was the first in and the last to leave on that shift. I worked a regular 8 to 5, and never actually got a break. (Waiting tables is funny like that. They pay you $2.13 an hour, so they don’t have to treat you like a human.) And while I had time during the evenings to write, I never wanted to. I completely stopped reading. I just wanted to go home and turn my brain off. In fact, I don’t remember much of what I did during that time in my life, other than binge drink at a bar called The Vista (now closed because it was structurally unsound), and hang out with all the wrong people. In fact, I don’t ever see anyone I met during this time in my life anymore.

It was a throwaway year. Sure, I gained valuable life experience and basically worked for all the people I learned I never wanted to become, but I have nothing to show for my time. And I think that year set a dangerous precedent. Because ever since, I have been working more than 40 hours a week, saying yes to too many “opportunities”, and never prioritizing writing or reading over other things.

So here I am. I’m 30, and wondering where my twenties went. (I know where they went–to way too much grad school, terrible companies that didn’t pay enough for what they asked of me, and just saying yes to “opportunities” that made me prioritize things I didn’t care about over the things I actually wanted.) Someday I’ll write about terrible jobs that took my sanity and created the little anxiety attacks I have today. Someday I’ll write about the instructor who taught writing at the expense of his student’s confidence. Someday, I’ll write all about the things I have done to make me a better writer that actually had very little to do with writing.

But not today. Today, I’m writing about why I’m searching for a mentor.

Lately I’ve been on the lookout for motivation–digitally searching for a mentor who has been where I am. I stumble onto different blogs with #branding experts encouraging me to be authentic and telling me to live my best life. That’s less than helpful though, because buzzwords and catchphrases help no one. (Also, can we talk about how inauthentic it is to hashtagify authentic?) I find people who in one breath want to encourage me to write my novel and push aside everything else, but in the next tell me to accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior. (Nothing wrong with religion, I just don’t want any of it.)

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I’m not searching for a mentor to live my best life, to be the change I want to see, to be brave, or to be blessed. I just wanna write things and read others. I want to quit doing stuff that is wasting my time. I want to keep publishing short fiction. And I just want someone to tell me that everything is going to be okay, or to tell me that I’m not doing good enough. I want a writer who has been there before, but also isn’t trying to mold me in his/her image. And mostly, I just want to sit and talk to someone who does what I want to do.

I think, if I’m being honest, I’ve been searching for a mentor my whole life. I don’t know if I’ll ever find someone who I want to just sit and chat with. And, you know, if I did, if I’d even want to actually chat with them. (I’m pretty solitary and find it incredibly hard to even share information with my friends most of the time.) But even so, it would be nice to be able to text a fellow writer who has been where I’ve been and come out on the other side, especially when I find myself in a particularly destructive place:

Me: I think I’m going to burn my computer. Writing is the worst.

Mentor: Don’t do that. Your MacBook was expensive. And you love writing. I never burned a MacBook and look at where I am today? Published!

Me: Yeah. I mean, I guess I need it to write this freelance thing anyway.

Mentor: Stop freelancing. You already work 40 hours a week. You have relatively few expenses and you don’t have expensive taste. Half the clothes you own were free because of credit card rewards points. You even get discounted gasoline because you get rewards from your grocery store. Clearly you don’t need the money.

Me: But someone asked me to do it.

Mentor: And I’m telling you to stop. You don’t need to do stuff just because people ask you. There are other freelancers out there that need the money. Take back your time. When you’re off the clock, you need that time for writing.

Me: You’re right. Thank you. Beers later?

Mentor: Stop using beer to procrastinate writing. When you email me 3 chapters, then I’ll take you out for beer. And don’t send me shit you typed without thinking. Just because you can autopilot writing doesn’t mean you should.

Me: Ugh.

Mentor: James Joyce never texted “ugh.”

Me: James Joyce never texted.

Mentor: Immaterial. Go write. I’ll tell your boyfriend to change the Netflix password until you send me 3 chapters.

Me: You wouldn’t!

Mentor: I’ll even tell your mom to change the HBO GO password.

Me: FASCIST!

Mentor: GO WRITE.

I imagine this is how a text conversation with my mentor would go. In my mind, my mentor is a smart east coast woman who wears leather jackets and catcalls men when she goes to the bars (to balance the universe, of course). She didn’t go to a fancy Ivy League school, and even though she’s east coast, she isn’t from the right part of the east coast for the publishing world to cut her a break. So, she’s done the leg work, if you will.

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Though, you know, if any mentor out there wants to volunteer, you needn’t meet these requirements.

This isn’t to say that I want to get rid of my other writer friends. In fact, some of the best life advice I get is from the writers who are where I currently am. The only thing they can’t tell me is that everything will be okay, because they don’t know if it will be either.

Thanks for sharing!
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7 comments

  1. “In my mind, my mentor is a smart east coast woman who wears leather jackets and catcalls men when she goes to the bars (to balance the universe, of course).”

    If you ever meet this incredible person, will you introduce me?

  2. It sounds like the mentor in your head is pretty awesome already. But I know what you mean, it would be great to have someone to kick you in the butt (in a nice way) every now and then.

  3. You sound rather demanding on one line, and then humorous the next. Perhaps you need to look deeper inside yourself to find the mentor you need. I think you know the answers, but like most of them, don’t want That answer.

    I’d like to offer hope and suggestions, but that saying “NO” is one of the hardest problems to be faced. I didn’t learn to say NO until I turned 50 and realized that truly my time on earth was narrowing down.

    Maybe Mini-Con can help. Good luck.

  4. Found this on another blog a few minutes ago and thought of you: R.W. Emerson gave me my favorite quotation: “May the work that you do be the play that you love.”

  5. Strangely, you’ve become something of a mentor figure. I’ve been reading your blog since January and I’ve found your advice not only pragmatic, but hilarious and motivating. As a 20 year old English Lit major in her senior year, Real Life is bearing down hard and I’ve never known someone who does what I want to do. Even though you’re not exactly where you want to be, you’re someone who takes charge of her life (mostly!) and who loves reading and writing.

    Thanks for providing to someone a few steps behind you the knowledge that, even if nobody knows when the slog through broken branches and potholes will end, the view didn’t get any worse.

    • Thanks for reading, Lindsay! And I know it can be scary when you’re about to graduate with an English degree, but don’t let the naysayers get you down. Seriously. There are so many opportunities out there, and your twenties are the perfect time for trying on a bunch of different jobs to see what’s right. And whatever you choose, keep doing what you want to do.

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