"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
- Isaac Newton originally and popularized by Albert Einstein
When I began my career—you know, back in the dark ages—people often started their careers in supporting roles. Sometimes that meant getting coffee, arranging schedules and running errands. But, more often than not, it also meant that there was a path to professional development that included opportunities and information that would help you get your career off the ground. And, one of the greatest gifts you and your career could receive was the advice and support of a mentor. No matter the type of business—craft or trade—you could progress in your nascent career by being trained and guided by someone who knew the ropes.
Today, a trade school, college or university degree takes the place of most traditional apprenticeships. But, higher education only addresses some of the needs required to be a professional. You might enter the workforce with a wealth of skills, talent and creativity, but without the experience of working in teams, managing clients or dealing with budgets, schedules and deadlines. Factor in the current workloads of most employees coupled with the speed at which projects are expected to be completed, and you are most often left to your own devices to figure out solutions to real-world creative and business challenges.
And here is where the importance of a mentor kicks in. Mentors offer time, experience and guidance that can help you transition from green beginner to competent professional. A mentor, teacher or tutor can provide an understanding of process, share tricks-of-the trade, caveats and war stories, as well as offer a personal perspective on the history of the craft. Success in your creative endeavors is rarely achieved by luck or a hit-or-miss, see-what-sticks approach. And, the same goes for success in your career. Careers that last are based on the ability to gather new ideas as well as learn from the lessons of the past. And, when a mentor is part of your world, he or she can help you develop that valuable skill and participate in structuring and molding your professional life.
On the flip side, being a mentor takes time and focus—commodities that are more precious than ever before. And, although many companies have detailed human resources guidelines, they rarely make mentoring a priority. While there are extraordinarily talented folks working in companies, studios and agencies big and small who have all the qualifications to be stellar mentors, it still seems like that role has been put aside.
So, where are the mentors?
Maybe mentors aren't gone but changed. Maybe they are available to us in small snippets and we have to gather advice and be open to guidance from professionals whenever and wherever we can. Maybe the pace of a mentorship is faster — as fast as everything else in our world. And, those who really succeed are the ones who learn as much as they can from everyone they come in contact with—whenever those opportunities present themselves.
Knowing what the status of mentorship is out in the real world makes me proud to work for a company that encourages every employee to have training and education. For our clients and customers, Sappi offers Sappi etc. with printed educational materials as well as team of professionals who travel throughout North America to mentor those in the graphic arts community.
Sappi makes information and access available to any customer. Want to know more about Direct Mail, QR codes or successful press checks but you don’t have a mentor? Ask me, I’m happy to be your mentor even for a day.