We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us — the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
There’s an enormous amount of recent research into the power of social connections and how they shape our beliefs and behaviours.
I’m reading a book by Charles Duhigg at the moment (The Power of Habit) which cites a number of studies into habit change, but one of the more interesting findings is that seeing certain behaviours modelled in close up, or having certain beliefs instilled by someone you know and speak to, has a huge impact on your ability to achieve the same thing.
I guess this is why athletes hire coaches if they’re going to move to the next level, don’t they?
On a personal level, I know that for those of us who are highly self-motivated, sometimes you do really need the support and specifics of actual feedback and support from a real live person. You can only go so far on your own.
I think about this in terms of my own writing, and what has most steered me in the direction of blissful solitary creative practise versus gulpingly lonely and full of self-doubt.
The answer, to put it simply, is the mentors I’ve had access to.
Certainty in the creative process
Creativity is such a confusing, messy mess. When you do have certainty, it just helps everything to flow. A good mentor gives you encouragement and certainty.
How to describe the creative bliss that comes with working quietly on a project you know is going to last much longer than you, that will touch so many people’s lives, that actually matters? It’s flow. It’s complete fulfilment and certainty that what you’re doing is the most important thing that you could be doing at this time.
Doubt and loneliness
It’s simply part of the creative process that there is no linear path. This means you have no absolutes, things in your work are constantly shifting and changing, and this really asks you to be so deeply grounded in your confidence, clarity and authenticity to persevere. And sometimes you’ll simply give up – or feel terrible.
It’s been the same with every book or huge creative project I’ve tackled. Whether it’s the messy middle or even having enough confidence to get started, doubt can make the whole thing long, lonely and less likely to be completed.
When I was working on the draft for A Letter From Paris I hit a particularly rough patch in the messy middle when I had to ‘phone a friend’ because I doubted that something that could be so difficult, or make me feel such complex feelings, was the right thing to do. She set me straight with a few words, and back I went to the page. Another time, I couldn’t find the structure – a writing mentor suggested a book that ended up being key to helping me shape the story.
It was the same with Love & Other U-Turns – a brutal rejection of an early draft had me wanting to retreat forever, never want to look at the manuscript again.
Which is exactly when I spoke to a mentor – it was initially to get permission to give up, if i’m completely honest. But he saw the possibility where I did not, and this is what a good mentor does! Just that level of belief in my abilities was enough to send me back to the page.
Having a mentor who’s ‘been there, done that’ with the exact project that you’re struggling doesn’t just help you feel more confident (and less lonely), it makes it much more likely that you’ll succeed.
Mentors, allies and threshold guardians in the journey
If you’ve read any Jung or Jospeh Campbell or done my memoir journalling course you know that no journey is really underway until you have allies, a mentor or a threshold guardian.
I know that I haven’t fully committed to a journey if i haven’t found at least one ally yet. As Anthony Robbins says, it’s not until you’ve taken action that you’ve really decided!
Want to master something? Find a mentor
If I’m trying something new the first thing I do is seek someone who’s done it already (and done it well) so I can learn from them. But it’s also a much less conscious need: I want to know on a deeper level that something is possible.
By having contact with that person who has been successful I’m embedding that feeling, that knowing, that understanding on a much deeper level – this is all possible. Which brings me back to how I began this article: by exposing ourselves to mentors and people who have gone before us, we can follow in their footsteps and know that certain things are possible. And when they see it in us, too, that raises our self-belief up to a whole new level.
Make sure your mentor has this one key thing…
I recently recorded a “Professional Chronicles” podcast with US entrepreneur Patricia Kathleen (you can check it out here!) and we talked about my background and how I came to be an author, and also to be coaching non-fiction and basically all that’s brought me to where I am today. At the end of the episode she asked me if i could give some advice to my younger self, what would it be?
My advice (if you don’t want to listen to the whole podcast!) was that you should only seek mentorship from those who have done what you’re trying to do. By that I mean – don’t just look for a writer to mentor you. If you want to have a specific genre of book, published, you look for an expert in that genre, who has actually published in the field. So many times in my writing life I’ve listened to people who seemed to have big shiny stamps of importance (agents, editors, random writing coaches who hadn’t published) and by far and beyond, the ones who had actually been published in my field were the only ones who gave me worthwhile advice.
It doesn’t take much!
When I received my very first email from a publisher expressing interest in my work it encouraged an entire book out of me! Why? Because she saw something in me and that helped me to see it too. Sometimes that’s all that you need: someone to see the possibilities before you can. Someone to report to, to monitor you and to encourage you and say “well done!”. And to acknowledge the giant heroine’s journey you’ve undertaken in this mildly mad creative process called writing a book.
Hit flow and feel good
When you’re doing something tough (like trying to get published!) it’s a much less lonely process when you have the right mentors in your corner.