The Bigger Picture of Mentoring

I’m sure many of you have already heard of this past week’s firestorm between BT and Porter Robinson. While we all might feel outraged at Porter while feeling sorry for BT, their situation isn’t at all unusual and that’s unfortunate.

At the heart of this story is the practice of mentoring and the loyalty owed back to the mentor. In BT’s case, he was originally mentored by Sasha. During that process he vowed to repay the favor by paying it forward toward the next generation. This is where Porter Robinson comes in. BT poured his heart and soul into Porter only to be forgotten and blown off as Porter gained popularity. Naturally, BT was hurt by this and eventually took to the twitterverse to express himself.

Mentoring is a huge job. It comes completely without pay and often times without recognition. Yet, despite this, it’s critical to the development of any human being. Fathers, mothers, uncles, teachers, pastors and drill sergeants all take on mentoring roles at certain times.

If you have been in a position where people worked for you, you had the opportunity to be a mentor. If you ever worked for someone, you yourself were mentored to some degree. I have a former manager who despite her issues with me and mine with her; I have to admit today taught me a lot about my business. Granted all she taught me was how I should not run it, but it was still mentoring on a certain level. Then again, it could have just been a bout of Stockholm syndrome as well, but I digress.

Simply put, just in case it wasn’t obvious, a mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher, someone that you look up to. The act of mentoring includes the sharing of that wisdom as well as investing a part of your life in the person you are mentoring. The bond is deeper than that of a simple teacher. The student or mentee is drawn into a deeper relationship than just been a lump of clay sitting in a chair listening and taking tests.

One of the mentors in my life happens to be my graphic design professor from twelve years ago. We still keep up today via Facebook. Honestly, I’ll probably go to his funeral when that day comes. Even after all these years, he is still interested in my life and what I’m doing even beyond the subject of design. This to me is the image of a mentor: someone who goes far above what is required to help another become successful and is willing to share in person’s highs and lows.  Payment is optional.

And it’s that key bit at the end – “payment is optional” – that leads to strife between mentors and mentees. While no mentor expects to get paid for their support and encouragement, they should be recognized. They should be respected. Any obligations on the part of the mentee or the mentor should be fulfilled. In BT’s case, he’s feeling abandoned as Porter apparently no longer has time for him or needs him. That’s a tough place to be in.

I don’t think BT isn’t hurting for money or recognition. He’s one of the most respected producers out there, not just for his music (which even the haters often admit is technically impressive) but also on a personal level from anyone who has ever met the guy. BT’s concern is really one many people have – knowing our roots. When we forget where we came from, who helped us get to where we are and that it was a struggle, egos tend to take over. When egos take over, pride and arrogance follows and nothing good comes from those things.

BT’s whole point in his twitter rant wasn’t to slap Porter Robinson around. He was trying to warn each of us. He wanted to remind us that “…so much has come before you to make what you do possible. It deserves your acknowledgement and respect… Remember to act with respect and pay it forward.”

And you know in your heart of hearts that BT is dead on. We have a very rich history in EDM. We don’t always know every bit of that history, but we do know that what we consider DJing today is completely different from what it was in the late 1970’s. We know that people actually were doing some amazing things on reel-to-reel tape decks and today we’re doing it all on a computer. The tools have changed, but we all instinctively honor and respect our DJing and producing forefathers and we all have our DJing or production heroes.

Many of us also know that we wouldn’t be where we are today as DJs or producers if we hadn’t had someone step into our lives and tell us that what we were doing completely sucked and then invested their time in us. The question is: are we willing to not only pay it forward, but at least pay part of it back to those who brought us up?

We’re all mountain climbers to various degrees. Very few of us can take on the highest mountains solo. Most of us need a helping hand. Nobody tries to climb Mount Everest alone and nobody certainly does it without a Sherpa. We all need guidance from time to time and there’s no shame in accepting or admitting that. In fact, we’re stronger for doing so.

Where does that leave us now though? We’ve just witnessed a very personal part of BT’s life. We’ve learned that Porter Robinson probably has let his ego get a little too big. That has zero bearing on you and me however. It’s a personal matter between the two of them. But I just want to ask you today, who is your mentor and who are you mentoring? And, have you told them both “Thank you for taking an interest in me” recently?