“Information wants to be free.”
This quote is originally attributed to Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, but is more recently the rallying cry for the freedom of access to information for all. For those of us in parts of the world where access to information is largely unrestricted, we have no excuse when it comes to learning, and thus growth. Resources are quite literally everywhere, both free and paid.
The public library system, one of the greatest public resources available in the United States, makes any knowledge we could ever dream of available to us for free. Technology has even made library books available for rent on our devices, so we never have to step foot in a physical library if we don’t want to. Socrates, Twain, Kerouac, Ferriss, and Pressfield, all instantly available as virtual mentors for us to learn from at any time we want. Books, podcasts, articles, and other forms of modern media can give us any information we can dream of, but what it can’t do is give us personal feedback on how to apply that information in our own lives. That’s where mentors come in.
While learning through reading is a foundational aspect to leading a remarkable life, learning through access to mentors is equally valuable, albeit different. An actual mentor – the living, physical, person-to-person kind – can take their personal life experiences and use them as a filter for advising us on our own path. They can absorb our situation and nudge us in the right direction based on what they know to be true in their own life. Where books and other information need to be critically thought through as they apply to our own life, mentors can give us direct answers and advice.
The term “mentor” originally comes from The Odyssey. Mentor was the name of Odysseus’ friend who was in charge of Odysseus’ son while he was at war. Athena, at the start of the epic story, disguises herself as Mentor so she could deliver critical advice to Telemachus at a crucial point in his life. Fast forward to today and our modern day term “mentor” aptly applies to its’ roots. Critical advice given and applied at a crucial time. This is the power of a mentor. They can give us timely advice that is relevant and crucial to our given situation. The best mentors are people that have already achieved what we want to achieve, or represent an ideal that we’re striving for. By having been in the same spot we are, and by being where they are now, they can tell us to a degree what the path in between the two places should look like.
Want access to a mentor without ever having a conversation with them? One of the best places to learn today is not so obvious, but to me it’s where a lot of the strategies to success lie. It’s what I consider reading between the lines of someone’s craft by paying attention to what they do as opposed to what they say. This can be applied a lot of different ways, but I’ll give an example to paint a more clear picture. Let’s say you want to learn how to make money blogging. So, you do a quick Google search and you find a number of people claiming to teach you how to do this. You decide to browse the top search result for simplicity’s sake. Here’s where you have two options of learning.
- You can absorb the content on their website as-is, trusting that by doing so you’re going to learn how to make money through blogging. You’re depending on what they’re telling you to hold the key and taking it at face value. OR, you have another option…
- This is the option where you read between the lines of what they’re teaching you. Instead of paying a lot of attention to the content of the site, you pay attention to how they’re teaching it to you.
In the second option you pay attention to the sales copy they’re using on their pages. How long is it? How do they ask you to buy product? Do they have multiple offers? What’s the price of their offer(s)? You then subscribe to their emails. Instead of worrying too much about what the content of the emails are saying, you pay attention to the context. How often do they send to you? Are the messages educational? Do they have soft or hard sales in them? Are they plain text or html formatted? What time of day do they come? What you’re really doing is taking someone’s success and looking at what they do, not necessarily what they say. What they say can be important, but if our ultimate goal is to peel back the layers of their success and learn from it, their actions are what tell us that and are often different than what their words tell us.
And herein lies a true secret of the inquisitive learner. Show me; don’t tell me. Or if you do try to tell me, I’ll be learning from your actions regardless. You can read a book on how to act, or you watch the set rituals of the best actors in the world to see how they prepare for scenes. You can read a book on online marketing, or you can visit the website of the best online marketers in the world and pick apart what they’re doing themselves.
You can buy a guide to getting fit, or you can look for the common threads that fit people do and eat (or don’t do and don’t eat). The best lessons in life so often lie in the unspoken. With a curious mind, you can take the best in the world at almost anything, and learn not from what they’re telling you, but instead learn from what they’re actually doing. They may teach you a tactic or strategy in their message, but when you read between the lines of their success, this is where you learn what makes them remarkable.
*This is a chapter from my upcoming book, Redwood: A Guide to Leading a Remarkable Life.