Mentorship: What Doc Emmett Brown & Mr. Miyagi Have Taught Me

All of you higher education professionals out there… have you ever found yourself sitting down and talking to a student about something REALLY important and offering up advice that you should PROBABLY be taking in your own life, but aren’t?  If you said no – congrats … maybe one day I’ll get there, but today – this post is dedicated specifically to just that.

Last week, I found myself doing just that.

Funny enough, I also came across this quote by the great Steven Spielberg, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves”.

I found myself questioning my mentor skills because I was offering advice that I wasn’t (at the moment) taking myself.  It wasn’t until I saw the Spielberg quote that someone posted that I started talking myself down from my self-proclaimed hypocritical head-spin.

Amidst the head-spin, I found myself questioning what it was to be a mentor.

Looking around today’s world there are so many ways we can mentor those around us. To use examples most people can relate to I’ll use some popular movie character mentor references (who doesn’t love movie references?).

  • Mr. Miyagi mentored the Karat Kid by using the “I say, you do” method.
  • “God” from Bruce Almighty uses the “I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget” mentor method.
  • Can’t forget the Dewey Finn (School of Rock) mentor style, which basically informs people to “fight the man” and get angry.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got X-Men’s Charles Xavier  who uses the “we can be the better men to improve the world” mentor style.
  • …And what about Batman’s Alfred, using the “we fail so that we learn to succeed” mentor method?
  • The incredible John Keating (Dead Poets Society) mentor method of “seize he day and make your lives extraordinary” can never be forgotten.
  • For those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans out there, Splinter teaches us with his mentor style to use our minds, not our bodies, to succeed.
  • Lastly, we’ve got Doc Emmett Brown, who showed us in Back to the Future that you can be totally MAD and still make a difference and mentor a kid.


What’s my point in all of this, you ask?

(Maybe you don’t- but, I’m going to tell you anyway)

There is NO SPECIFIC WAY to be a good mentor.  There is no handbook to follow and no directions to follow.  I know using movies and characters as examples can seem a little far fetched to some people – but, think about it.  Just like every movie listed above is different and every character is totally different, every student you deal with is different.  Each student learns a different way.  Each student has experienced different things in their lives, and therefor no two students learn the exact same way.

The more I thought about it, the less guilty I felt for offering the student advice that I wasn’t taking in my own life.  Why?  At the time, she needed to hear it, she was benefiting from it and she wasn’t asking what I WAS DOING, she was asking what SHE SHOULD DO.

A good mentor is honest, up front and encouraging.  The delivery method – where, when and how, will always vary.  I look back at all of the people I consider to be mentors in my life and no two were the same, no two spoke to me the same way – and yet, their teachings stay with me.  As long as you know that you are doing everything in your power to help that student grow and get to a better place, you are doing all you can do.

I have only been a professional in higher education for about 3 months, but I have learned more about myself (and students) than I thought possible in that amount of time – and I can’t wait to learn more.  I may not be a Doc Emmett Brown  or a Mr. Miyagi – but, I am determined to make a difference in student’s lives the way my mentors have in mine.

This is my life …  In Progress.