02_The Importance Of A Mentor
From my time of placement as a junior creative, I have learned and continue to learn so much about both the industry and the people that make it tick. One lesson surprised me more than others. For a long time idea of having a 'mentor' filled me with dread and distaste. “Is it not just like having a ‘chosen parent’ to observe and monitor your work and tell you all the ways to *fix* it?” – I would think.
Mentorship can of course be many things. And is different for every individual, but over the last 2 years, I have really felt and recognised the importance of mentorship. Especially in the unstable world we find ourselves in, working for long periods in isolation, and as creative people, in particular, we are susceptible to imposter syndrome, burn out and critical self-analysis.
I think this is where a mentor can prove their most vital role. I have come across a few people in the creative industry thus far whom I look up to and respect. There can be a multitude of reasons as to how I find inspiration in those around me. Either from a person’s creative integrity and values both creatively and critically. Or someone’s infectious sense of humor and ability to connect minute human nuances into their work to bring authenticity and emotion. But what always feels best as a junior starting out in the industry; is those people of seniority noticing how hard you work and pushing you further.
This is something I struggle with endlessly. I never know when to call it quits but also struggle to push myself for the sake of it. And it takes that outside opinion, to encourage you to create better work, not only for the job but for yourself. You always feel better after you give that extra 10%.
When we were in the office, my mentor who sat next to me would constantly ask about my work, what I was working on, if I was enjoying it. They’d relentlessly question my methods and point out where I could improve. It was a little intimidating, to say the least, but you quickly learn, once you have 2 creative directors leaning over you watching as you design the pitch deck that’s due for export in 23 minutes, that this industry comes with finding comfort in the uncomfortable and not taking the work too personally. It was the constant barrage of questioning, advice-giving, and joking around where most great creative conversations started. Through sharing a sense of vulnerability in saying;
“No, I don’t know this yet, but I’m really willing to learn, will you show me?”
By the end of the placement, we had formed a series of questioning techniques to stress test ideas and concepts, but more importantly, with every project, I was asked "Is this really the best you can do?” The first time hearing that was rough, like a harpoon been shot through your hypothetical creative heart.
"Of course, it’s the best I could do -how could you ask me that – do you not think it looks like the best – well I guess I could have fixed that….”
But it only takes a moment to be honest with yourself. Sometimes you can do no more - that’s perfectly fine. But on the occasion where we asked this question and I came to the conclusion that no, in fact, I think I could do better…well I was sent back to the drawing board. And every single time I did? I came back with better work and work I was actually proud of. Some of the best creatives and designers directly trace their success back to mentors or creative partners.
Having a good mentor is less about having someone to just give you advice and guidance. I think having mentors and the importance of picking the right mentors is that these people should naturally believe in you and your potential. They can recognise areas for improvement and development, but they also can continuously push you and motivate you. Everyone needs someone in their corner cheering them on and I think that’s where the best mentors find themselves.
Some of the most poignant moments I’ve had in the agency have stemmed from seniors placing faith in my work and elevating me to a place where I could have a voice and be seen. This type of exposure and confidence in ability is invaluable at any stage in your career but particularly in those early years of development.
As I move into the industry and my graduate job, I will continue to build upon my creative support network to be a sponge. Understanding the power in soaking up all resources and information around myself to help enrich my own practice.