My dear friend and colleague, Eve Zanni, coined this phrase, “mugging the mentors.” When I heard it, I laughed out loud. There are so many people in this world who think they are entitled to anything they want. We used to call that being spoiled.
Yes, some people are grateful and very willing to say so. They humbly acknowledge the person who offered guidance and support. That’s a great exchange.
In my diverse and varied career, I must say that I have helped a long list of people who wanted to be teachers of singing who were just starting out. Sometimes they were looking for a letter of recommendation (or several over a period of years), or help with a book, website content, a thesis, an article, a dissertation or research. I have been interviewed countless times for various people’s needs in their own career building. I have passed on information about job opportunities and had people be successfully hired all over the country and the world, based in some part upon my connections.
And, of course, I have provided instruction in teaching using what I have gathered over the decades to help young teachers or those new to teaching to shorten the path to credibility and success. Much of the information I gathered through personal search and experimentation is not available elsewhere and cannot be purchased in any course other than mine. And, whatever I have done as a mentor, no matter how lengthy or large the project, it is or was always for free.
I have encouraged teachers to read, explore and investigate many sources as that is necessary. If they come to me for assistance or a favor, they do so entirely on their own. It is always their choice.
Sometimes, at the beginning, there was a sense of appreciation, but as time passes often my help is taken for granted. I “should” continue to help them, even years later. They feel completely comfortable taking up my time and providing nothing in return, or worse, deciding that they should stomp on me once they make a name for themselves. They are entitled to it, in their own minds. Now that they are “big deals” on their own, there isn’t much use for me. They wouldn’t bother to ask me for help in the present moment since they are “far above that” now. And gratitude? Fuhgeddaboudit!
I have helped others do research, present research, publish papers and articles. I have helped them with doctoral dissertations, with writing books and book chapters, and with their own understanding of what they are doing both as pedagogues and authors. I have held hands and been supportive in tricky situations. I have provided career advice and made important introductions to others who were prominent in the various voice disciplines. And, yes, a good deal of this was assimilated and then used with satisfaction by the people on the receiving end. Am I thanked or even acknowledged at all for my contributions once I am no longer needed? Do they treat their other mentors this way? How could they not?
Did I get a copy of the dissertation, the article or the book? Did anyone send me flowers or a big box of fruit? Did I even get a card? Did I get a public acknowledgement of the assistance I provided? Most of the time, no. Are these people better off for what they received from me? Most of the time, yes. Do they thank the others who have done something similar? Probably not.
If you study with me, take my courses, use what you have learned and don’t even mention me or my work in your credentials on your way to being “important”, shame on you! That is a form of stealing. (This applies to all work or help from other experts who are mentors, not just me, and whose experience or generosity may have helped you.)
When you decide you are better than your teacher but you are just half her age, or when you think you can go out into the world as if what you know was deposited in your brain by angels in your sleep, or if you assume you can bury the fact that you asked for assistance and got some, shame on you. If you don’t proudly proclaim the names of those who mentored you, who let you stand on their shoulders, who were there for you when you needed a guide, who gave you the most precious thing we all have — their time — shame on you. You might have ended up with a piece of paper (or several) that put letters after your name, you might have a book or a book chapter or research or be asked to do master classes or workshops, but who got you started? Where would you be had you not met that person or those people?
Some day, maybe, you might be asked to help someone yourself. If they do to you what you did to your own mentors, if they literally mug you, you will be receiving what you dished out. Perhaps your mentees will walk away from you with no gratitude and no acknowledgement for your help. Or perhaps they will steal your work and claim it as their own (the biggest insult). You will see that what goes around comes around and when it does, you should not complain. Perhaps then, you will take some responsibility for your past actions and also have some regrets for your shoddy behavior. Then again, maybe not, since you were just fine with your own actions in the first place.
Remember, wherever you go, there you are. You can run, but you can’t hide. In the end, you can’t escape yourself. Everything stays with you, even if you don’t admit it to yourself, including what was disrespectful, dismissive, or hurtful to another. It will keep eating away at your soul — maybe even your body. That’s a very high price to pay. If it never bothers you, then perhaps you have no conscience, which makes you a sociopath. If you have justified your actions to make yourself feel better, for your own sake, take a deeper look inside!
Many of my professional colleagues who, like me, have been around the block a few times have shared similar experiences. “Mugging the Mentor” didn’t arise in a vacuum. Nevertheless, in spite of being treated badly, we are still always willing to help someone else.
I will do anything reasonable to see someone else move forward, do better, succeed, be happy. I will always tell the truth, be honest, open and caring and observe professional standards. I will state clearly that which I know to be true and behave in as ethical manner as possible. Someone else’s success, if it is based on honest hard work, can only benefit everyone, including me.
I did not use anyone else to be where I am. On the contrary, I have acknowledged every one of the many people who have helped me along the way. I do that with humble gratitude and admiration. If, indeed, it is a “dog eat dog” world, I, for one, am not interested in contributing to that mentality for even 10 seconds.
If the only prayer you ever offer is “thank you,” that would be enough.