The Quest

Tonight I was thinking about mistakes I've made; really cringe-worthy blunders and other misguided attempts at being more than I was ready to be. I was thinking about it because, lately, I've been watching people make the same mistakes, which doesn't bother me in the slightest. What is most interesting to me is what happens afterward.

Depending on where you are, usually the person is either supported or condemned. The support usually comes in the same form that it did when you were a kid; a kind of "that's okay/everybody's a winner/you'll do better next time/fake caring" vibe, which is not helpful. While the condemnation usually consists of some kind of "shouting the person down/stupid noob/don't you know anything?" approach, which is also not helpful. I realize these are not earth-shattering observations. It's been the same since you were in short pants on the playground, I know. Bear with me.

The third, and far rarer approach, is mentoring. Until the industrial revolution, knowledge and experience necessarily bore the burden of responsibility. Master would teach apprentice so the craft would live on. This is how it worked in the trades until manufacturing was taken over by machines. Children would leave the family home, submit to the teachings of the master, be made part of the guild and, eventually, take over the business. Some of this happens today, no doubt, but we are no longer wired for this relationship in many ways. It requires extra effort on the "master's" part and it requires a certain level of submission from the "apprentice". I think it can happen though, if, as a master, you can muster the empathy required to be a real mentor, and not just a giver of advice.

The journey of the apprentice from ignorance to mastery is, in some ways, parallel to the journey of the hero archetype. Both leave home, both are on a quest, both receive guidance from a wise figure, and both must prove themselves worthy. I think that the day I realized that everybody, no matter what the quest, was essentially following this same path, I became a lot more tolerant and a lot more interested in helping people rather than condemning them. It's one of the things I carried with me into teaching High School. The ability to first say: "Well, that's where that person is with their quest. There is no way to speed it up and there is nothing to fix." followed by: "How can I help them navigate the situation as it appears to them at this moment?" is a very powerful combination, and it's available to us, in small ways, all the time.

There is no doubt that this is the most work-intensive decision to make, but it's also the kindest and ultimately, I think, the most useful for both parties.


  1. Bravo, Paul. Well said. Honoring the journey also honors the traveler, which every traveler deserves.

  2. navigate is now our word of the week! great great post.

  3. handmadelife - Thanks so much for the comment. Really. NIce.

  4. It's definitely the most difficult path to take, but the one that contributes the most to the person involved. I don't always succeed, but in the last few years I've been trying really hard to have more understanding and empathy for people, and take this approach more often. Thanks for the reminder.