Small car. Big Park.

Mentors and Their Role in Our Personal and Professional Lives

“Find something you are passionate about, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I paraphrase, but this is what my father once told me when I was a kid. I didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say at the time, but now I do. His words came to mind years ago, when I realized that I finally found my passion, maybe (hopefully) even my purpose in life. So, for that and much much more, thank you, Dad. And also many thanks go to my mother who, without even realizing it at the time, opened my eyes so that I could find my passion.

Small car. Big Park.
Don’t get lost on your through life. Find a mentor, a trusted guide. – Image: Car on a winding road, on its way to the top of Haleakala. Lost in Haleakala National Park. Maui, Hawaii. Photo ©Alina Oswald.

Truth is that, more often than not, our parents are our first mentors, while opening our eyes to life and the endless possibilities it might have to offer. The individuals closest to us often offer a shoulder to lean on, a map, or a guide to follow on our way through the winding road of life, to our goals and dreams.

As we grow older and leave childhood behind, we tend to find other mentors. Several individuals really made a difference, and some still do, in my life. One of them was my piano teacher. I’m still very much in touch and visit as often as I can with two of my favorite teachers. One of them is my English teacher. The other one made me fall in love with mathematics. Later on, while in college, thanks to one of my professors, I became passionate about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

My first photography mentor was, is, award-winning photographer Kurt Weston. He’s not only a wonderful friend, but an inspiring individual and fascinating artist, who has guided me through my own learning about light–and how to paint with light–in an effort to express myself, tell a story (and also my story), and, ultimately, find purpose in my life.

I’d like to add that, over the years, I’ve got to meet many HIV and AIDS, and LGBTQ activists. While getting to know them, interviewing and photographing them, I’ve realized that these activists are mentors and role models to many of us. Harvey Milk’s message to heart and give us hope. Not only that, but they become symbols of hope.

Another photographer I met years ago is award-winning photographer Marvin E. Newman. I’ve looked up to him for as long as I’ve known him. The other day I stopped by Taschen bookstore in New York City to attend the launch of Marvin’s new book, a collector’s edition of some 170 photographs offering only a glimpse into the artist’s photographic work.

I cannot talk about mentors without mentioning the B&H team, in particular David Brommer, as well as SVA, School of Visual Arts in New York City.

So, what should we look for in a mentor?

A mentor is:

  • someone you can trust
  • some who inspires you
  • someone you look up to
  • someone you feel comfortable asking for guidance and whose guidance you trust
  • someone who’s not afraid to give you an honest opinion about your work, tell it like it is, in a nice and polite way; you can take that advice to heart, or not, it’s your choice
  • a mentor is someone who listens to you and who hears you
  • a mentor is someone whose work inspires you, as an artist, as a creative, and as a human being, in general
  • a mentor represents the image or the mental image of someone you thrive to become

I believe that, without my mentors, in particular without some of my mentors, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. All I can tell them is “Thank You!”

So, if you don’t have a mentor, find one. And if you have a mentor (or mentors), feel free to share your experiences.

As always, thank you for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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