“My chief want in life is someone who shall make me do what I can.” said Emerson, Ralph Waldo, a famous American essayist and one of America’s most influential thinkers and writers.

Right from infancy and at any stage in life one would be completely lost without guidance. Guidance from the right people and at the right time is utterly vital at all times in life. Who are the right people? Who are those who will qualify as the most appropriate mentors? The search and choice of the right mentor is vital for any student and the intensity gets stronger when competitive exams are the aim.

Let us first define ‘mentor’. In the 8th century BC, the Greek writer Homer wrote an epic poem describing Odysseus’s adventures during his 10-year voyage home after the Trojan War. While he was gone, he entrusted the care and education of his beloved son, Telemachus, to his faithful friend Mentor. Almost three thousand years later that man’s name has come to mean a wise and trusted counselor. The most basic question that would come to anyone’s mind here obviously is ‘what is a mentor’? There could be several definitions of a mentor –
A mentor could be a most trusted counselor or teacher.
He could also be defined as an individual, usually older and more experienced and one who guides another person in his/ her all-round development.
A mentor usually has more knowledge and expertise in an area and shares it with the person being mentored.
Basically all definitions would sum up a few common characteristics of a mentor. A mentor guides, nurtures and nourishes a ‘learner’ or a ‘disciple’ just like a gardener does to each plant in the garden.

A good mentor is a coach, always challenging, inspiring and demanding that the learner does his/ her best. Mentors can improve confidence and lead to opportunities one had not considered. The best mentors help develop the insight and self-awareness that assist with integrating various aspects of life.

The know-how and expertise of the mentors is extremely helpful and important as one could easily eliminate the loopholes and hang-ups using the experience of their mentors. Other reasons as to why mentors are important in an individual’s life are –
*    To economize the time required as the experience of the mentors becomes handy.
*    To build confidence in a learner as he would be sure that he is doing his work correctly under the guidance of his mentor.
*    To get information more efficiently and correctly.
*    It helps one to boost up morale as the mentor is always there to encourage and appreciate apart from rectifying errors in comprehension.
*   Mentoring also helps in balancing various aspects of life as the mentor is always there to share and to provide a venting place for the learner’s frustration and help to handle situations that might be tough for him.
*    Various problems in a learner’s life are addressed accordingly by a good mentor. For instance, when the learner is anxious his stress needs to be handled by giving him quality hearing time. The right stress-buster is sharing success stories and listening to the learner’s point of view!

Now after answering the very basic questions as to what is a mentor and why is mentoring required, the next pertinent question happens to be ‘who can be a mentor?’ Some names that come to ones mind instantly are those of Chanakya, Lord Krishna, Raja Ramanna, Narayana Murthy and many more. These are people who excelled in their fields and nurtured their protégés. Therefore a mentor can be anyone – parents, teachers, superiors or anyone who has adequate experience and know-how of a particular field and is ready to take up the role of a mentor.

Having understood the need and role of a mentor, we can now easily identify the qualities of a good mentor.
1.    He is completely dedicated to the role of mentoring his protégé.
2.    A good mentor understands that no two learners are alike and that the aspirations and ambitions, the aptitude and the attitude of each of them is different and therefore he gives a personalized attention, guidance and feedback to each of them.
3.    He is a model of continuous learning and he communicates hope and optimism to all aspirants at all times.

Now as we know the different traits and characteristics of a mentor and also what mentorship is all about we are in a perfect position to apply it in our practical lives. As children we all needed to be mentored by our parents, our teachers and now at work by our superiors. The most crucial stage in a student’s life is when the need to take a career decision becomes imminent. With so many options to choose from a right decision is vital. Only a good and trusted mentor at this stage assesses the situation. After carefully juxtaposing the capabilities and aspirations, the needs and desires of the aspirant, the mentor recommends the best option. A lot of analysis and hard work besides focus are therefore responsible in ensuring best results.

Therefore, a good mentor at all stages in life would at least minimize, if not completely eliminate, the possibility of a wrong decision. A good mentor is definitely a blessing all would want to have. Needless to say: ‘Finding a good mentor is like finding a treasure.’

[Arvind Passey]