If you have taught or otherwise encouraged young people over the years, you’re struck one day by the realization that you’ve become a mentor. Though this role has slipped up on you unplanned and unannounced, it comes with a range of responsibilities. In time you’ll find that among these are the need to remain steady and approachable on your small pedestal, to be readily available, to find the answers that you do not know, and to willingly share whatever it is that you do know.

There will also be those who think of you as a mentor simply because you have aged somewhat well and are continuing to pursue the work that you’ve always done. For the lucky few who’ve reached this later stage in life, however, your own mentors will often be struggling contemporaries like yourself or ones who are long deceased. That is if you insist on looking for them among those artists and thinkers who have preceded you. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have begun finding my mentors in those often younger who amaze me with their knowledge, their talent, their work ethic, and their kindness. Most would not consider themselves to be mentors at all; some will be as surprised and pleased as I was to find that they are considered to be one.

Teachers can’t help but know that they learn from their students. What is hugely satisfying is to become a mentee to someone who views you as a mentor. In such cases you must step down from your pedestal in order to dip into a well to which you may have contributed, a well that has been filled to overflowing from other tributaries and holds a pool of wisdom all its own.

Mentee. In these later years it has a lovely ring to it.