I had a great time recently with the brilliant chef Sujet Saenkham at Spice I Am restaurant in Darlinghurst in Sydney. My husband and I cooked up a storm in one of Sujet’s four cooking classes. We learned how to make duck curry, red curry paste, Ho Mok Pla and the most amazing fishcakes I have ever tasted!  Now, I have made many an average fishcake in my time but with a few tweaks taught by a master mentor, supportive people to learn with, and the right tools and ingredients, the outcome was sensational. My fishcakes will never be the same again!

Could I have made these fish cakes using a simple recipe? Sure I could have.  Would they have tasted the same? Most definitely not.  It was the little tricks taught by Chef during the hands on process that made all the difference.  The personal attention and tweaking of my thinking created an outcome I simply could not have achieved on my own.

I think that, by now, most of us understand the value of having a mentor. A mentor can see things we can’t.  A mentor can see a career path that we may not have even considered. A mentor believes in us during those times that we don’t believe in ourselves.

So, why do we wait until we are mature adults, aiming for a particular job or career, to find appropriate mentors?  What if we sought out mentors earlier? What if we sought out mentors to uncover our true strengths before we even considered our careers? What if we learned to make the perfect fish cake from the outset?

As kids, our first mentors were our parents. We looked up to them, imitated them and as we moved through our lives we became more like them!  Now, as a parent myself, I see my actions impacting my children in much the same way that my parents actions did me – in good (and sometimes bad) ways.  I remember other mentors from my childhood.  I remember my grandparents, my uncles, my friends and their parents.  I remember profound, life changing, lessons from people I trusted that I have carried with me ever since.

I had many mentors that shaped my thinking about the world and everything in it, however, I certainly could have used a career mentor to navigate my way through further studies and my first job.  I could have used someone slightly removed from my life who could see what I was passionate about without the filter of fear and wanting the most lucrative career for me so I was always safe.  I could have used someone removed from my family so i wasn’t tempted to confuse constructive advice as an attempt to control, as many teenagers do. Don’t get me wrong, mum was amazing and someone I looked up to in the business space.  The problem was, at that age, I thought I knew it all and it wasn’t until later on in my career that I truly valued mum’s wise words!

Having a mentor could and should be a consideration throughout the turbulent teenage years. This is a time where children go through extreme physical change, incredible psychological change and hormonal upheaval.  Quite often the first people to be lashed out at are the ones we love the most and parental alienation is common.  What if we actively sought out mentors to help us navigate these times and guide us as we enter tertiary education and make career choices?  What if we had mentors who could see our strengths before we could? What if we learned just how much chilli to put in before we blew our ears off?

Danish analyst, Erik Erikson created Life Span Development Theory where he discussed that over our lifespan, humans develop in eight psychosocial stages. Within each stage, we are confronted with a developmental task or inner conflict which must be appropriately resolved as it shapes the direction of our future development.

During adolescence, Erikson suggests that the task for young people is to develop self-perception and a sense of belonging, describing the teenage years as a time of identity formation. It is a time for recognising ones strengths, weaknesses and roles within the family and society at large.  Add puberty to the mix and its associated biological warfare and you have a moody, volatile, mono-syllabic, cranky kid.  It’s not their fault, and it is not their parents fault.  Their brains and bodies are beautiful works in progress and in order to navigate this crazy time an appropriate mentor can only be a good thing.

Dr Arne Rubenstein, in his book The Making of Men, refers to the value of mentors many times for both young men and young women. He states mentors are “someone who can reassure each child of his innate worth, instil values, guide curiosity, and engage a purposeful life. A mentor provides advice and support, watches over and fosters the progress of a younger, less experienced person.”

By providing access to mentors to allow the combination of youthful passion and energy and connected and meaningful work, I believe there will be no stopping the next generation of brilliance.  I have no doubt that many societal problems could be solved by providing young people with appropriate mentors and role models.  Everyone is different and, just like fish cakes, everyone has their chilli threshold. Not everyone likes it hot, some play safe and others take it on a sliding scale.  Having a mentor, or many mentors, can help channel opportunities that fit within individual “chilli profiles” to create a successful balance and authentic experience for each individual.  Imagine the impact of truly happy and fulfilled people on those around them?

What a wonderful world that would be.

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