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Find Yourself “Invisible Mentors”

Many of us know the value and importance of having mentors in our life. The dictionary defines ‘mentor’ as “a trusted counselor or advisor.” A mentor is someone you have direct or indirect contact with; that you meet with or talk on a regular (or even irregular) basis, and go to at times for advice or counsel on certain things pertaining to yourself or your life. While a mentor may not instruct you or provide on-the-spot teaching or coaching, they will challenge you to think through things – examine things – open your eyes and mind to different perspectives. And they can provide motivation.

Dan Inosanto was a mentor to me with regards to Jeet Kune Do and the Filipino martial arts. John Little has served as a mentor to me in the field of writing and philosophy. Television writer and producer Anthony Yerkovich (creator of Miami Vice, Private Eye and other TV shows) served as another writing mentor to me. These were all people I respected and admired and with whom I spent a great deal of time.

But do you know that we can also have “invisible mentors” and that they can, like physical mentors, be invaluable to our personal growth and development as well? Who is an invisible mentor? They are someone you respect and admire, yet someone whom you may have little or no access to physically. They may be living, or they may have shed their mortal coil.

In her book, The Creative Habit, renowned American dance choreographer Twyla Tharp discussed the idea of invisible mentors and spoke about choosing George Balanchine, the artistic director of the New York City Ballet as one of her invisible mentors. Balanchine wasn’t readily available to Tharp, but she recognized that he was the person who knew most about what he was doing, so she tried to learn as much from his as possible. As she put it, she “mentally parked herself in the corner of his studio.”

Bruce Lee has served as an invisible mentor to me throughout my entire JKD journey. Famous writers including Raymond Chandler, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald have all served as invisible mentors to me at various times with regard to writing.

How do you go about choosing an invisible mentor? It’s incredibly simple. You pick out someone who you believe can teach you something, someone you can learn from. It’s important that you don’t choose someone who is going to sit down and chat with you and agree with everything you think and feel, because that will be a waste of time and defeats the purpose of a mentor.

Perhaps for you it might be a Jeet Kune Do practitioner or instructor or another martial artist. Or maybe they might be an athletic coach or a trainer or a top-level athlete in another field. Perhaps you might choose a particular philosopher such as Jiddu Krishnamurti. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what profession or field of endeavor they are in; what matter is that you feel the person can be of benefit to you and your personal growth.

You can learn from your invisible mentor using all different sources. You can go to a bookstore or a library and pull out a book about them. You can research them online to find articles, interviews and perhaps even videos or DVDs of them. Whatever method you use, you want to find out as much as you can about the person as you can -- their feelings, opinions and viewpoints on things – their work ethic, etc. You can’t simply say, “Oh I’m going to use this person or that as my mentor” if you know little or nothing about them.

Mentally visit them where they are training or working and observe them in action. Try to learn as much as you can from them – what you see in them can become your personal standard – they may provide role-modeling for you. Carry on conversations with them, be it in your head or vocally – talk with them, listen to what they have to say to you – imagine what their opinion might be about what you’re doing or what you want to do (remember, their opinion not yours).

As with an actual physical mentor, the impact of a invisible mentor’s guidance and wisdom might not be felt until several years down the road, but you will realize their positive impact upon you over time. Used correctly, as with physical mentors, invisible mentors can have positive and lasting effects on our lives and personal development. So why not take a little time to find yourself your own “invisible mentors”?

(Renowned American dance choreographer Twyla Tharp)