March 14, 2014 by Alex Johannigman
As a young adult I find that it is really easy to build friendships with people around my age. We have a lot of the same interests, we do the same things, we have similar life experiences, and we have similar amounts of free time. But in the last couple of years, I’ve discovered more and more that the relationships that challenge me, that push me to become a better person and give me goals for the type of person I want to become, have been those with people who are older than me. I think in addition to good friends who are peers, every young adult needs a solid mentor, or a small group of people who are older than they are and can serve as role models for their life.
For me, these relationships have come from a leader at my parish, a couple of Knights of Columbus (they’re pretty much all older than me), a more senior co-worker that I worked with closely at my old job, and a couple of the leaders and regular volunteers here at Christ in the City. If you want to become the best version of yourself, then having a mature mentor and developing that relationship is paramount. There are plenty of great examples of mentorship in the Bible and elsewhere. The disciples had Jesus. Timothy had Paul. Samuel had Eli. Joshua had Moses. Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan. Frodo and Bilbo had Gandalf. Now try to imagine where any of those people would be without the influence of their mentor. Mentors challenge us to greatness.
Mentors can also help us discern our vocations. One of the best ways to discern your vocation and to understand the responsibilities of being a father or mother, a priest or religious, is to have close relationships with people who are living those vocations. I wouldn’t know near as much about married life as I do if I didn’t have a couple of close friends who have been married for the past 10+ years. I wouldn’t know near as much about consecrated life without the relationships I have with a couple of priests and a few consecrated lay brothers in the Christian Life Movement who I’ve gotten to know during my missionary year in Denver. If you’re wondering about your calling in life, one of the best ways to learn about those vocations is to talk to people who have been living them out for a while.
How do you sort out the good mentors from the bad? Surely not everyone who is older than you is a good person to look up to. I’d start by looking at principles rather than achievements. A good mentor is someone who shows that he or she shares the values that you want to develop as you progress in life. For me, those values have included a devotion to caring for his wife and children, a care for the poor and needy, a willingness to put the needs of others before his own needs, honesty, hard work, and discipline. These are things that I want to be better at, or become good at once I reach a certain point in my life, and these are traits that I believe my older mentors are better at than I currently am.
There are a lot of great places to find mentors who share your principles. Looking for a spiritual director is a great place to start. If you’re wondering where to find a spiritual director near you, ask a parish priest for recommendations or ask your friends if any of them have spiritual directors and where they found them. Parish ministries can also be great places to look since most are led by older, wiser men and women with a commitment to the faith. If you’re a man, I can’t recommend the Knights of Columbus highly enough. It’s been a great organization for me to meet and get to know awesome men who live out their faith in inspiring ways.
Once you’ve found a good mentor, make sure you don’t lose them. I had one particularly inspiring mentor that I looked up to while I was living in Dallas, and I’ve made sure to try to meet up with him every time I’ve traveled back to Texas. Now that he’s planning to move to Missouri for a great new opportunity, it will be even more challenging to keep in touch, but I still hope that we’ll be able to because I think there is still a lot that I have to learn from him. Just as we gain more from long lasting and deep friendships, we can learn more and more about how to live a virtuous life by growing closer and closer to someone who has been doing it for longer than we have.
Mentors challenge us to greatness, they help us discover who we want to become and how to get there, and they demonstrate practical ways to live the virtues that we desire to have. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated that “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” If you desire the greatness that you were made for, you’ll need someone to show you how to get there.