This post has been floating around in my mind for some time, mostly inspired by my own experiences over the years. I think seeking out a mentor when you are first setting out in a particular field is one of the most beneficial things you can do. It’s almost like a shortcut to success because you are learning tips and tricks and skills from a trusted individual in your given field. Notice that I say “trusted”. Please, vet the person you choose as a mentor.When I first started in makeup artistry some ten years ago I thought that having a mentor was the greatest thing in the world. I thought it was going to be a chance to develop a relationship with someone in my field who would not only teach me and guide me through the process, but who would also inspire me and motivate me to excel. It didn’t quite work out like that.
My father had passed away about a week before I began my first interaction with my first “mentor”, so I would like to look back and think that maybe my judgement was clouded as my emotions were still all over the place. I was approached on a site for artistic professionals about assisting on a small local shoot. The makeup artist had a great portfolio for the time, and seemed genuinely invested in bringing up another artist on a path to success. I made it through my first session with her, taking notes and being as hands on as she would let me. I left feeling good about the direction things were going in, and was increasingly becoming excited about future opportunities. Shortly after our first meeting she offered me to assist on a more involved shoot, and although extremely nervous, I was also excited to continue learning from someone who seemed so influential and artistic. I showed up and was not greeted warmly at all. It was like every first impression was out the window. I was basically bossed around the entire day, and belittled in front of the photographer and clients for my lack of skills. Keep in mind, this was only my second encounter with someone who was professionally involved in the field I wanted to be a part of.
When we left that day, the “mentor” tossed me a 20$ bill and said she would be in touch. I never heard from her again, except for a random email basically calling me a terrible person and saying she wished me well, but was sure I would never amount to anything. I was devastated. It’s was like being broken up with and not given the closure. I was so defeated, I has no self-esteem, and I was beginning to think that everything was a mistake as far as my place in the industry was concerned. I decided that I didn’t want to pursue another mentor, (did I mention that this lady also told me on set that she didn’t love what she did, she just knew she was good at it and it paid the bills), I instead took to YouTube, books, and every other tool I could get my hands on to learn and refine my skills. I practiced and practiced and practiced on anyone that would let me. One day I received a message from a local photographer who said I was referred to her by the photographer that ran that very first photo shoot I ever attended. I took the job she was offering me, and although my nerves were immensely on edge, the makeup for my first session with her was a hit. I wasn’t the failure I was made to feel I was destined to be. I developed such an amazing relationship with this photographer. I honed all of my skills, worked with a variety of clients, and even learned about photography.
Eventually I was getting calls from personal clients for bridal consultations, homecomings, and other photo shoot opportunities; thus, my business continued to grow and I was becoming a known name in the area. It was such a good feeling to be recognized. Come to find out, that “mentor” that didn’t treat me so hot in the beginning was still telling others that I wasn’t a quality artist, and those photographers were telling me in turn. It’s sad to think that sort of thing happened, but it does, especially in creative industries like this. Luckily, my quality work and personality have made a name for themselves, and I was showcased on theknot.com, so it wasn’t a huge blow to my self-confidence after all. When you find your tribe of creative kindred spirits you know it, and you hold on to them, and, believe me, things work out! Turns out that this “mentor” has left a bad taste with several people of various capacities in this industry, but who am I to say anything.
I have also had the opportunity to step into the shoes as a mentor, so I already knew what kind of person I wanted to be in that role since I had the experience that I did. I always made sure to sit down and have an actual conversation with potential mentees before actual getting them into a hands-on situation. I wanted to know what they already knew, what they needed help with, where their skills currently were, and so on. I have had mentees decide that this was not an arena for them after all, and I have had those who I have brought on jobs with me, and who are currently working for themselves, whether they credit me or not. You don’t get to pick and choose what people go and do with the time and training you invest in someone, but you do get to decide if you want to be in a mentoring position to begin with. If you can’t be supportive, motivating, and helpful then maybe being a mentor isn’t for you. If you enjoy teaching, inspiring, and helping to build the future of your given field then I encourage you to consider being open to such an opportunity.
I know I am referring to all of this from a creative standpoint with the makeup artist industry, but it crosses over into every field of business out there, as far as the mentoring relationship goes. If you are going to be a mentor you need to commit the time to get to know who you are working with and be willing to pass along your knowledge and expertise to help them grow. If you want to be mentored, be a mentee, you need to be committed to preparing for the experience and taking action when it’s required of you. You need to be prepared for constructive criticism and all the ups and downs of the learning process as you learn and grow. There needs to be trust on both ends of the relationship or you won’t be making the most of the opportunity. When you are mentoring someone you want them to feel stronger and more knowledgeable because of the time with you, so, likewise as a mentee, you want to walk away from the experience feeling hopeful, capable, and empowered.
Having grown my professional network as such, I still have people I can message with questions, or who can message me. The lines of communication are open, and we aren’t cutting each other down to get ahead. That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I value the trust and honesty of these relationships. Some of the people I work with have become such good friends. We’ve seen each other through weddings, babies, and what have you. Only you can decided if the community you’re in is a good fit. If you aren’t comfortable reaching out then maybe it’s best to reevaluate your situation and see if you can graduate to a niche that fits you best. Maybe it’s just me, but I want everyone to succeed when they put in the work.
I also want to add that learning is not conclusive. You don’t just reach a point and say, well, I’m done, there’s nothing left to know. I have found myself, to this day, entering into new ventures where I am recruiting some of my trusted friends to serve as a mentor to me. I value their experience and success and know that they can teach me something that will only better me. I have no problem asking them for help, and that’s the thing; you cannot be afraid to ask for help. I much rather have someone trusted guide me through a situation than to brave it on my own without the proper knowledge. If you are passionate about something, but maybe aren’t as skilled as you would like to be/need to be, then reach out to someone. Reach out to several someones! Invest in yourself and be open to learning and working hard, and you will go places. I look back and see how far I have come and it blows my mind sometimes. Don’t let one “no” hold you back from the hundreds of “yes’s” that are waiting for you.
If you have an experience as a mentor or mentee and would like to share, please do so in the comments!! I wish you all lots of success and happiness. Let’s be good to each other!!