08/24/2012 06:41 EDT | Updated 10/24/2012 05:12 EDT

The Slacker's Guide to Success -- Step Two: Choosing a Mentor

Historically, the act of apprenticeship began when a person reached somewhere between the ages of 10 and 15. However, that practice changed rapidly with the inclusion of child labor laws and free education for children -- both great movements but both came at the cost of the influence of experiencing a one-on-one mentor; someone to influence the success of a person in their adolescent years. The following is a guide to finding the proper mentor for an individual student.


This is the third installment of The Slacker's Guide To Success, based on my work with struggling teens and young adults. The introduction can be found here. The first step can be found here.

Step Two: Choosing A Mentor And Establishing Goals

Historically speaking, apprenticeship began when a person reached somewhere between the ages of 10 to 15. An apprentice went from learning the lessons their family had to offer to learning the successful lessons of a master craftsman. However, things changed rapidly in the 18th century with Rousseau's philosophy on education for children and the spread of formal education. Many great strides including child labor laws came about two centuries after but what was lost was the influence of an outside, one-on-one mentor; someone capable of impacting the success of a person in their adolescent years. The following is a guide to finding the proper mentor for the individual student.

1. Self-Assessment:

A) Learning Style -- Write down the ways that you best learn. Is it by seeing something done (visual); by hearing it explained (auditory) or by doing it yourself (kinesthetic)? We all have the three styles but one will be most dominant, followed by a second with the third being holding the least sway on how we learn.

B) Intuitive, Logical or Both -- Go to a mirror and look at the distance between your lower eye lids and upper eye lids. One of your eyes will be open more than the other. If your left eyelids are more open, you are an intuitive learner, if it is the right set of eyelids, you are a logic-based learner. There is a third option. Check this out for a whole day in the mirror. If you see yourself switching dominant eyes, you are someone who alternates using both hemispheres of your brain, learning using both logic and intuition. Logical learners want the instruction book, intuitive learners want to know how it works and they'll make up their own instructions.

C) Success in Learning -- Look back to a time when you learned something that you did well. It could be the simplest of things in your mind but examine how you learned using the methods explained above. Remember: use what works. You may choose other ways to learn but always start with ones that have served you well in the past.

2. Choosing A Mentor:

A) First Quality -- Get To Know You. They must understand you and how you learn. With so many learning styles, a mentor who does not take the time to understand how you learn has a one in 16 chance of being the right teacher for you. Just because it worked for your friend doesn't mean it will work for you. If they talk about themselves and how good they are... Run! If they seem to really "get" you... stay!

B) Second Quality -- A Person Of Valor. A Mentor is meant to guide you to finding the best of your own qualities. They should therefore be someone whom you respect.

C) Third Quality -- A Good Listener. Active listening is an art. The ability to listen and then give meaningful feedback on what we have heard and to empathize is, to say the least, a lost art. Make sure your mentor has this quality. It's easy to spot.

D) Fourth Quality -- Action. All of the above qualities are powerful but without a plan of action, they are merely ideas that cannot lead somewhere. Your mentor must be the kind of person willing to implement goals based on the three first qualities stated above. Goals without understanding goes nowhere, understanding without goals never gets out of the gate.

3. Establishing Goals:

A) Goals -- Choose three things in order of importance that you would like to work on.

B) Challenges -- Write down what some of the challenges within you that might interfere with you having your goals end up as you would like them to.

C) Success Markers -- Determine what would be good indicator to you that you were succeeding in each of these goals.

Up until the past few generations, parenting was a shared responsibility. What parents can teach their child is invaluable but parents and children do best when there are others still mentoring them in the teens and twenties. The goal is go beyond your limitations: this is the work to do with your mentor.

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children

of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." -- Helen Keller

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Graphics by Nick Robinson