There are so many reasons that a mentor is essential in most careers. It may seem counter intuitive in a creative industry where you are trying to be original and niche, but it is more important than ever. You don’t need a step-by-step guide, because in this industry, there is no cookie-cutter approach. What you need is an advocate who knows the landscape so you can bounce ideas off of an experienced sounding board.
A mentor isn’t there to give you the answers. What they are there for is to facilitate your own journey. Think of it like going to a friend for relationship advice. You shouldn’t do whatever they tell you to do as they don’t have full knowledge of the situation, and their preferences, prejudices and priorities may differ wildly from yours. What you do go to them for is support in tough decisions. Should I break up? Should I move in with them? How should I confront them about a
touchy subject? All of these conversations you go into with a half-baked plan of what you are going to do, and then your friend helps you refine and define it, and tells you when you’re being a bit crazy. It’s also more fun and more reassuring to have someone in your corner. This is why a mentor is so important. Having an advocate will boost your confidence during performance, and help you critique and grow in your professional sphere. Acting itself is the tip of the iceberg, and there is an infinite number of individual career paths to take as a professional. Navigate yours with someone who has been through a larger percentage of their own journey, and you can tailor your progression and potentially avoid a few of the setbacks that are all to common.
A mentor is different to an agent, and while they can be a coach or teacher, I would recommend finding someone else, unless you yourself want to become a coach or teacher. While the blog and the internet at large can provide you with the resources, there are so many individual variables that require a personalised approach. There is also the danger of putting your delicate self-esteem in a mentor, and when they critique your work, it can be tough not to take it personally and feel attacked or betrayed. Find someone with a job you admire and approach them after one of their shows, or send an email to ask if you can buy them lunch, or a coffee, or a beer, whatever your style is.
This career can seem like a confusing, isolating jungle a lot of the time. Ever heard “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? This is because relationships are the foundation of this industry. It’s more a combination of what and who you know, but never underestimate the power of a courtesy, generosity with your time and your knowledge, and a support network. Find mentors and mentor others in turn. If you like someone’s work, let them know. If you believe someone is perfect for a position you hear about, submit them. Create networks between yourself and others in a selfless way, and your own career will flourish.