To the person struggling to stay afloat in a world he or she cannot fully understand, a good mentor can be a gift from heaven. Benevolent, wise, kind, firm, understanding — the word ‘mentor’ alone conjures up an image of an omniscient parental figure in whose capable hands we can safely place our derailed destinies. And for me, the ideal mentor will always be Doc Hudson from the Cars movie franchise.
Doc Hudson, AKA The Fabulous Hudson Hornet, was the king of the race track until a crash in 1954 wiped him off the racing circuit for good. Embittered, he retired to the little-known Radiator Springs and vowed to never return to the racing world…until fifty years later, when brash rookie and Piston Cup hopeful Lightning McQueen turns up in town. How the veteran racer-turned-doctor views the upstart Lightning McQueen with suspicion and hostility at first and then goes on to watch, proudly, as his now-protege Lightning zooms his way to fame is a feast for the eyes and a treat for the heart. So powerful, indeed, was Doc Hudson’s impact on Lightning, that he rose to become not only a racing legend but also a mentor in his own right as he passed the baton to the young Cruz Ramirez, another potential track star.
While we can’t all have anthropomorphic Hudson Hornets as our guides and friends through thick and thin, certain attributes Doc Hudson had are what set the best mentors apart from the merely okay ones. And as an individual passionate about getting the best guidance possible, whether you’re starting a business, switching career paths or writing a book, these are attributes you should always keep an eye out when searching for mentors.
They are excellent listeners.
As a mentee, you will have questions. Not just questions — you will have moments of verbigeration when you spill your guts out to your mentor about everything that’s going wrong and all the things you hate about yourself. While incessant rambling is probably not a habit you should cultivate, your mentor’s job is not to admonish you when you need to talk, but to hear you out and then supply whatever feedback is appropriate. You’ve reached out to that person because you trust him/her, and part of the process is to listen attentively.
They provide direction rather than merely throwing out hints.
Mentors aren’t supposed to do the work for their mentees. But they are supposed to set a course for the mentee to follow. Simply telling you to “fix your resume” or “speak more clearly” won’t absolve them of their responsibilities. They are there to coach you on exactly how to fix your resume, improve your speaking abilities or whatever else it is you need mentorship with. Doc Hudson didn’t just tell Lightning that dirt was different from asphalt — he actually showed him how to turn corners on a dirt track. (That Lightning didn’t allow Doc to demonstrate the trick and ended up in the cacti first time around was entirely his own fault.) Choose a mentor who will show you how to do something and equip you to do it on your own. Generic statements of the ‘do this, do that’ type? You might as well Google ‘how do I get a job’ and see what the engine spits out.
They aren’t possessive about their knowledge.
Let’s say your mentor started from scratch in a particular field and earned acclaim. You now want to venture into that very field, and you ask your mentor about his or her success story. Instantly he or she clams up and says something like “Everyone’s path is different, what worked for me may not work for you…” Red flag alert! The best mentors will always be ready to share the secrets to their own success, especially when you can directly benefit from them. In addition, they should also be willing to share any specialised knowledge they may have in some field you want to know more about — that includes providing overviews, recommending resources and helping you understand any concepts you’re having trouble with. Doc Hudson passed on his arsenal of racing tips with pride and joy — and that’s what the best mentors do.
They aren’t afraid to admit their own shortcomings.
Mentors aren’t perfect. No one is. But it takes a lot for someone to honestly admit so, especially to a mentee. A lot of mentors may insist on assuming an air of omniscience for fear of losing stature in their mentee’s eyes. In reality, though, sometimes all it takes to rise from a mentor to a hero is the ability to admit when one is wrong. Doc Hudson had dismissed Lightning as a self-centred rookie and gotten him away from Radiator Springs, but he was big enough to come back to the racing world as Lightning’s new crew chief when he realised his mistake. And that’s what really cemented the bond between them. Look for a mentor who’s honest about not knowing what he or she doesn’t know — you’ll develop a far stronger relationship than one merely based on listening to what he or she does know.
They respect you as a mentee.
Doc Hudson was never a mild-mannered racecar, and to him, Lightning was always the ‘kid’ he could laughingly whizz past on a dirt track. But the one thing Doc never was — patronising. He respected Lightning immensely as a talented racecar with the potential to be a legend like himself. As a mentee, you are there to learn, and you obviously don’t have it all taped out yet. But the best mentors will never look down on you for being inexperienced — they will recognise your abilities and respect you for them. What you may lack in experience or skills, they will help you with — and they will do so with the courtesy you deserve. You’re taking their guidance because you have recognised, on your own, where your difficulties lie and what kind of help you need — that alone commands respect, particularly from the mentor whom you have approached for that help.
They are happy when you succeed.
Mentors do what they do because they want to help their mentees grow. And when the mentees do grow and attain success, the best mentors are their first and loudest cheerleaders. You only need to look at Doc Hudson to see the pride he had in Lightning McQueen — as Smokey later tells Lightning in Cars 3, Doc had never been as happy as when coaching Lightning, not even when he was racing himself. In real life this is often hard to do if a mentee ends up equalling or outstripping the mentor — however, while we are all human and it’s hard not to be jealous if someone we coached ends up outdoing us, the best mentors will keep these feelings aside in favour of a justifiable pride in having helped someone achieve the best they can. Your mentor should view your accomplishments with pride, not rancour — because that’s what you deserve from a mentor.
What I love about Disney/Pixar movies is how beautifully they portray profound truths and life lessons in their stories — to my mind, several of their characters are as much role models to learn from as the characters of classic literature, and Doc Hudson is one of them. With his characteristic gruff voice (RIP Paul Newman) and quiet air of wisdom, Doc helps Lightning McQueen see the potential in himself and rise from rookie to rockstar in a manner Lightning could never have done on his own. The best mentors give mentees the support, advice and guidance they need to make the most of themselves, and are the first ones to bring out the champagne when the mentees fulfil their dreams. The mentor-mentee relationship, indeed, can be one of the most magical bonds ever. When in doubt? Remember Doc Hudson.