I distinctly remember my first mentor, Professor Charlie Plum. He sat in a big office on a high floor in one of the business buildings at Texas A&M University, where I attended school. I knew he was someone important by the size of his office and the huge leather couches, but I knew nothing of his history there except that he had helped an acquaintance of mine, and she had recommended that I go see him.

Feeling lost and confused about my major and recovering from the death of my father, I was in a low place. But rather than intimidate me with his position, Charlie made me feel important and understood from the moment I sat down. Tear-filled eyes gave away my emotional state, but his warm smile soon calmed me.

My relationship with Charlie only lasted a couple years, but the impact has persisted for a lifetime.  He encouraged me to follow my heart, and I soon found myself in a new major and a new country for a study abroad semester. His loving and generous wisdom empowered me to steer a new course for my future.

Another important mentor in my life came years later when, as a new yoga teacher, I attended a conference eight months pregnant and sat in on a yoga lecture by renowned teacher, Sandra Summerfield-Kozak.  A year or so later, I sought her out again for an intensive study in Houston, and there I asked her to be my yoga mentor. More than just yoga wisdom, Sandra gave me loving support and wise direction, much like Charlie had, to follow my heart and to better nurture myself and my body. Knowing I had her listening ear made me more confident as a person and teacher.

A mentor might be someone like Charlie or Sandra – older, wiser and more successful than you. But age and success are not always the determinate factor. A mentor can simply be someone who acts as a compass, to whom you can turn to find your bearings and seek direction. My daughters have often been mentors to me, giving me honest feedback with unconditional love and support. Sandra once told a group of students that it is important to have a friend on whom we can rely to be honest with us. She suggested we identify which friend this was and then make a pact with that person to each give honest feedback when needed. This type of friend can act like a mentor by holding up the proverbial mirror.

Oprah Winfrey says,”A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” A mentor is not about changing you or telling you what to do, but about being a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a loving nudge forward. Some other benefits of having a mentor include:

  • Insight. A mentor can spot your strengths and suggest how to capitalize on them. They often see something special in you that you have overlooked or underestimated.
  • A new vision. A mentor can stretch your thinking by providing you with another perspective and a wider experience than your own.
  • Partnership. A mentor helps alleviate feelings of isolation. Not a boss and not your competition, a mentor can give honest and unbiased feedback, while offering empathy and compassion.
  • Sounding board. A mentor gives you a chance to work through new ideas in a safe and confidential environment.

At varying career and life stages, you will need different types of guidance. You don’t necessarily ever give up a mentor, but you can keep adding to your support system throughout your life. As a yoga teacher or student, a mentor can help keep you on a true path of yoga, navigate the crowded messages out there and find your authentic voice.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is that having a mentor can teach you how to be a mentor to someone else. We did not invent or discover the wisdom of yoga. Rather, we are simply here to pass the torch along, shedding light on someone else’s path as someone has done for you. Is there someone you know who could use a little light on their path right now? Why don’t you reach out and give them the support and encouragement they need to realize their greatest vision, as someone has done for you.

As Winston Churchill said,”We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Make the world a better place. Namaste.