So You Say You’ve Got a Lot to Learn; or, Being the Mentee You Want to Mentor

I have a full length and a chapbook length manuscript of poems submitted out hither and yon, and rejections are trickling in. I know that instead of brooding over my submissions list and awaiting a boop from email, I should buckle down and start something new.

But I’m having trouble settling down to anything, and I’m wondering how to push myself into new territory, to reach toward doing work that might exceed my grasp.

And for the manyith time I wish I had a mentor, someone who would say, okay, you’ve come thus far and you clearly need to head in that direction; here’s what you’re doing well and why and here’s what you are hiding from and how I can tell. And I think grumpily back to times when I shoulda/coulda/woulda had such a person. And then I admit that in fact of course there were probably many times when I DID have such a person but failed to recognize it.

I am sure people in my life have said many important things to me with regard to my work that I either:

  1. Didn’t hear because I didn’t realize they were talking to me (Why would they care about me?)
  2. Heard but was thinking about Y when they were focusing on X. (But what about Y, I would cry. Y? Y?)
  3. Thought I heard, but they were talking about Y when I was focused on X. (What? What are they talking about? What does Y have to do with X?)
  4. Heard but couldn’t understand what they were talking about because I just wasn’t developmentally there yet (Sorry, master’s thesis in public policy advisor…. NOW I get what a “conceptual framework” is…)
  5. Was too scared/freaked out to really hear what they were saying. (Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!)

I believe there have been people who thought I was arrogant and not listening. Would I doth protest too much to suggest that I don’t really think that was the case? That it was more likely to have been, oh, e.g., #5 above? Anyway.

When I took voice lessons, if I showed up early, I would get to hear the tail end of the lesson before me, and I realize pretty quickly that our teacher was communicating the same things to us in different ways. I realized she had listened to us with great sensitivity and was figuring out how best to communicate something in such a way that we could hear it, altering her style to each of ours. She was allowing us to teach her how to teach us. I found this to be a revelation about what a teacher can do.

Now I realize it was also a revelation about what a learner or mentee can do. A mentee can be open to all the ways in which a mentor may address him.

But learning has its own cycles, with the individual learner whirling around inside them. In any given lesson, a teacher may be trying to convey 5 things, but a student is likely only to be able to pick up from 1 to 3 of those things, her mind only able to absorb so much, easily distracted by all the newness, and/or all the oldness. This requires the other items to be repeated some other time when the learner has half a chance of hearing them. I realized this when skiing with a friend who, several years earlier, I had given some instruction to. She was saying, “This very helpful young man last year told me to do X,” and I thought, “Um, I told you to do that very thing myself three years ago.” But she could only hear what she could hear at the time, could only absorb so much at any given point in the learning cycle.

But it seems to me that if we learners are very alert and aware, we could actively try to grasp some part of all 5 things, allowing them to bubble up over time. I’d like to aim for that, anyway.

I am hoping that I can learn how the world is teaching me, can be open to being a mentee of whatever mentor stumbles along, whether he or she intends to hold that role or not. I aim to try to be an open mind, an active listener to the world, a grateful recipient of useful lessons and ideas.

I am hoping that I am learning how to learn how to learn.

5 thoughts on “So You Say You’ve Got a Lot to Learn; or, Being the Mentee You Want to Mentor

  1. You’ve gotten to exactly why I prefer teaching in small seminar-style or one-to-one, as opposed to teaching in classrooms. I have learned that I teach best when I teach to the student’s needs (learning from them), instead of trying to convey a general curriculum to a group of diverse people.

    Having raised two children of quite dissimilar personalities and learning styles, I learned (from them) that I had to convey the same information in differing ways if I wanted to get through to both of them.

    A good mentor is difficult to find. I’ve only encountered a few. I’ve often wondered if that was my fault–am I unable to be a good mentee? Or looking the wrong places? Or focusing on the wrong things? Or being stubborn? –in other words, I mean to say, you are not alone in your questions. Nor in your quest.


    • Thanks for your note, Ann. I do feel like I’ve seen people whom other people seem to actively want to mentor, and I wonder about the characteristics of the kind of person other people like to help. And I struggle against what I perceive as characteristics in myself that push helping people off. But I come back again and again to the attitude of openness. Which is harder than it sounds, isn’t it?!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure I’d be a good mentee =/ even though I would love to be one day. I think I’ve been burned by a few not-so-great mentors. People that hadn’t even fully tried to be a mentor to me (yet if at all) but the advice they handed down was….not the best. Instead of guiding or nudging or helping answer questions I had it was too often in the form of ‘you can’t do that, stop’ (did you just tell a writer they CAN’T?) or ‘your style is too simple or dumbed-down, this isn’t good enough’. That type of critique doesn’t really help anyone. If you feel like I’ve messed up in your eyes, guide me in telling me WHY you think that and then help me try other options. Telling me that rhymes are so last century or no one is allowed to make up words in children’s poetry (Seuss is staring at you from the grave) or I’m not writing the ‘hot topics of the day’ doesn’t really help me be a better writer. Sorry for the ramble. XD I’d love to have a good mentor one day, but I also have to figure out how to be a good mentee first. I’m afraid right now I’d balk too much.

    Liked by 1 person

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