The Alchemy of Mentoring

alchemy-imageThe word “alchemy’ has its origin in ancient times when certain practitioners were able to turn common metals into precious metals, like gold and silver. But, the other part of alchemy was the creation of an elixir that, when drank at a certain time (say 5 o’clock), granted the person who consumed the drink immortality and youth. (Today, we would refer to that elixir as Jack Daniels Whiskey—just kidding!).

But, the alchemy description is relevant for mentoring in many ways. Mentoring is the transformation of a person into something more precious. It is also in some ways about immortality. Gandhi wrote, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” And, it is about eternal youth. Learning can be the great equalizer of age. Baseball great Satchel Paige said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Early adopting seniors can emotionally be much younger at heart than colleagues many decades younger chronologically. Need proof? Director Clint Eastwood is 83; Actress Betty White is 91 and crooner Tony Bennett is 86.

The anthropologist Carlos Castaneda used the word “magic” to describe his unique mentoring relationship with the Yaqui medicine man, Don Juan — and truly there is a magical quality to the mentoring process when it takes on a life of its own and leads mentor and protégé through an experience of shared discovery.

The challenge of helping another person see things in a new way has had many labels down through the centuries. Biblical writers used fishing analogies to capture the spirit of mentoring magic and told of removing scales from eyes. The philosopher Ram Dass referred to it as “a dance.” Buddha said, “One should follow a man (person) of wisdom who rebukes one for one’s faults, as one would follow a guide to some buried treasure.”

Mentoring magic cannot be a solo performance. It is not a one-way, master-to-novice transaction. To be effective and lasting, it must be accomplished through a two-way relationship — the synchronized efforts of two people. The synchronicity and synergy of mentoring are what give it a dance-like quality. They are also what make it magical.


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