Who inspires you? When you were in school, I’ll bet it wasn’t the teacher that demanded perfect silence in the class and wrote spelling words on the black board. Most likely it was the teacher that did the unexpected, that mentored you, that called out of you the talent that was waiting to be developed.
As you matured, you found inspiration in media, in stories about remarkable people, and in the mentor that saw what you could do, if you applied self-discipline to learning the rules of your art, and then encouraged you to “break the rules.” Today, with the internet breaking down the barriers of communication, your mentor may be someone you’ve never met, but who inspires your creativity in a new way — a nonconformist mentor.
My son, Ian, enrolled in graphic art lessons when he was 12. We, as his parents, thought that art would be an area of enhanced creativity, for him. However we were disappointed. Drawing class was conformity — everyone was encouraged to draw a line, along with every one else. Everyone drew the same line at the same time. Everyone drew exactly the same picture and success was measured by how close the copy resembled the original — which was copied from a book. Unfortunately, although some basic copying skills were learned — creativity and self expression were not just absent, but discouraged.
We dropped the class and bought Mark Kistler’s “Draw Squad” and let Ian explore drawing in his own way. I’m not suggesting that formal training isn’t of value, but art training should be training in technique and the rules of engagement, not simply copying.
Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad
The Inspirational Mentor
The inspirational mentor offers the rules of engagement and encourages creative exploration. The graphic arts teacher, in this case, was motivated to push students through her class, to make more money. She wasn’t motivated to grow artists. And she isn’t unusual.
Mentor vs. Teacher
There is a difference between an inspiring mentor and a “teacher”. The mentor is a nonconformist. She knows she is different and desires to pass that difference on to make another successful. The teacher is just doing a job and wants to get through the day with the least amount of inconvenience. The teacher is a conformist and to her, teaching and mentoring are the same thing. However, the mentor tutors a person, while the teacher teaches a subject. The mentor is the person who inspires us to be better than we are right now. The mentor is ahead of us in what we need to learn. She is the one we turn to for advice when a problem arises. Dare we even mention a problem to the teacher?
You are teaching/mentoring someone
There are always people that are ahead of us. Some of those are merely teachers, others are mentors whom we look to for inspiration, as well as guidance. In your story there are also those who are behind you, that you can teach what you know, or you can mentor them, to grow and become more than they are right now. I’m not suggesting that to teach a subject is wrong. There are lots of teachers out there and we are taught to pat them on the back and say,”Good job, thanks for teaching.” But mentoring is nonconformist and aims at a different target, the kindling of passion and transcendence. You may chose to teach many but mentor a few.
Qualities of the Inspirational Nonconformist Mentor
There are several qualities that all inspirational mentors share.
1. Relational leadership
A mentor knows that she is a leader, because she has followers. While the conformist focuses on the number of followers, the nonconformist focuses on leading through building relationships.
The nonconformists knows that it can be a lonely path and seeks to encourage others to keep on walking, and not give up.
3. Nonconformist – stands out from the crowd
The mentor stands out as a leader in the field. In a field of white sheep, she will be the shepherd, giving guidance and direction, and bringing the flock along with her. She will be the innovator, who tests new techniques or goes against conventional thinking.
4. Creative Communicator
The mentor recognizes that everyone is an individual and that each person has a unique learning style. The mentor packages their message in a way that meets the need of those she is inspiring.
5. Sees the rules as tools, not laws.
Although there are laws in physics and mathematics in most areas in life there are only rules. Some rules are codified into “law”. Rules are laid down to protect individual liberty and community or religious life. Our society has the rule that stealing is wrong. This is a tool to protect the rights of ownership. Its a good tool. There are also rules in design, in art, and in craft. Breaking these rules has consequences, but they aren’t “laws” in the same way that the law of gravity is a law. The mentor knows the rules but sees them as tools to get to the outcome, not as an end in themselves. Teachers feel satisfaction when the student is living by the rules. Mentor’s hope that their students will be more advanced than themselves, understanding that rules are tools, and some rules are open to being broken for the sake of creativity and innovation.
6. Motivated to make the world a better place.
The mentor is motivated to make the world a better place. Teachers are motivated by a pay check at the end of the month. The mentor would do what they do even if they weren’t being paid. A paycheque is a bonus.
While anarchists and rioters are often labelled as nonconformists, the true nonconformist looks for change through nonviolence.
Gandhi was a nonconformist mentor. In order to bring freedom and self rule to India, Gandhi led his nation in nonviolent civil disobedience.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young baptist preacher when the Montgomery bus boycott began in 1955.
” ‘The 381-day protest catapulted King to national prominence. Because of his leadership role, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was the success that it was. He was able to galvanize the black community and articulate the goals of the people of Montgomery,’ said local historian Richard Bailey. According to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, King was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities. A founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he led the organization from 1957 to 1968. King promoted nonviolent resistance that inspired blacks and whites to ban together for equality. ‘My father pointed out that nonviolence means more than the absence of physical violence,’ Dexter Scott King, one of King’s sons, said in describing his father and the center’s mission on its web site. ‘Nonviolence is not passive, but a courageous, active resistance to injustice. It is a way of life reflected in thought and deed, a method of conducting yourself in all of your affairs.’ ” The Montgomery Boycott
The nonconformist mentor is a motivator. She knows that creation is 1 % inspiration and 99% perspiration and she motivates others to embrace the hard work to succeed.
9. Doesn’t fear failure but sees failure as a opportunity
Its difficult to cut a new trail. There are fallen trees over the path that need to be cleared out of the way. The trailblazer is bound to take a few wrong turns as she moves into new territory. There is no room for fear of failure. Every wrong turn is one more path that didn’t work, or possibly even a path to a new vista. The nonconformist mentor, isn’t fearful of the failure of others, either, failure leads to opportunity.
There is no failure, only one more way that we now know won’t work.
10. Problem solver
The nonconformist mentor foresees problems and offers solutions. If there are no problems then you aren’t trying anything new. In the midst of innovation there will be problems. The mentor offers solutions to problems.
This isn’t a complete list. The nonconformist mentor has many qualities that make her stand out from the conformist teacher. The nonconformist mentor inspires you to be a better you, to improve your skills and to live the life that you dreamed of. If you have a nonconformist mentor in your life, thank them.
And if you are someone’s mentor, be the best mentor you can be, by working to more fully develop these traits.
Your turn: What is one word that you would use to describe the person who inspires you or mentors you?