HOW LONG has it been? It has been a couple of hours and you lost keeping track of time. Your back is sore from hours of sitting at the desk working with the laptop, but you refuse to move an inch. It feels as though your brain is heating up from the constant process of trying to find an answer to the question glaring at you from the laptop: “Explain how your background affected your personality and goals,” “What are your strengths and weaknesses and why?” You know that you are smart and are fairly knowledgeable in most fields, but for some bizarre reason, trying to find the right answer to the questions regarding yourself - the question of “who are you?” – has always been so difficult. What is even more fearsome is that the society demands us to know the answer to that unanswerable question.
Why do we find it so difficult to find answers to questions regarding ourselves? The explanation is a simple cliché – we are still young and inexperienced. Not only are we inexperienced, but the Korean educational system does not offer youths many opportunities to think for and about themselves. For most students, all they were asked to do during their high school years is to study to go to the prestigious universities. However, as we start our lives as a university student, we are demanded to answer the question “who am I?” For example, we are constantly bothered with the questions about us such as what have we gone through so far, what we have learned from each of them, what kind of vision we have, when we write an essay for university entrance exam or applying for a job. To the youths untrained in answering such questions, those questions are catastrophic. Hence, just as how young trees depend on a wooden support, youths begin looking for someone to depend on – not on a wooden support but on a mentor.
“Mentor” – it is a term that we hear very often today. The word is originated from the Greek mythology Odyssey, from a man named Mentor. Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who often gave advice, encouragement, and practical plans to Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Soon henceforth, the name Mentor was adopted in English and evolved today as a term meaning “someone who imparts wisdom and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.” In today’s world, we, the youths are the “less experienced colleague” in the definition of a mentor, and we begin searching for someone who can “impart wisdom and share knowledge” with us, and thus whom we can depend on.
Such dependence on mentor is particularly widespread in Korea. This phenomenon is also referred as the “mentor fever”. These days, it is not difficult to find youths referring to someone as their mentor. One may consider her parents as her mentor, while other may refer to his friend, teacher, a popular author, or even a celebrity in media as his own mentor. Most notably, Kim Nan-do, the author of the best-selling book brought about a national “mentor fever.” His best-selling book titled “Youth Hurts” was on the number-one bestseller list for 37 weeks, serving as the mentor of youths by giving practical advice and encouragements to the spiritually tired youths these days. The television shows like “Do Dream” and “The Great Birth” also encourages this so-called “mentor fever.” In “Do Dream,” the viewers are offered opportunities to listen to the mentors of the program. Even survival programs like “The Great Birth” adopted a mentor-mentee system and offered talented singers as mentors for musician wannabes. Although the shape and size of mentors as well as how they reach the youths vary widely from person to person, one factor is very clear: youths are constantly looking for mentors.
However, it seems that the ability of mentors is overrated, and the ability of youths on the other hand is equally underrated when it comes to answering questions regarding oneself in Korea nowadays. The fact that it is difficult for youths to find an answer to the question “who am I?” and their reliance on mentors may have a side-effect of encouraging youths to rely on mentors excessively. However harmless as this may sound now, it is critical for youths to remember the perils of mindlessly accepting their mentor’s advice on any problem. The first factor to remember is that unused habits become eventually perished. Just like how Dodo birds lost the ability to fly because they stopped using their wings, we may lose the ability to make decisions by ourselves if we constantly rely on our mentors for decision. This is not to imply that we should ignore our mentors, but we should be wary of the danger of losing the ability to form our own opinions about ourselves. Otherwise, we may forever live a life depending on others for major decisions. Another easily overlooked factor to consider before absorbing mentor’s advice blindly is the fact that the mentor and we are two completely different beings with different personalities, brought up in different environment, and would go through different experiences. No matter how great a mentor hemight be, the advice he can give is confined to his own experience. It might be true that his choices were the best ones for him, but it might not be for us. Likewise, mentors’ judgements are not unquestionably applicable to our lives. Bruce Lee, the famous actor said “do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.” Just like his words, it is integral for youths to be themselves, express their beliefs, and pave their own way of life even though it may be difficult. It is up to us in the end to make decisions for ourselves – this is a simple and obvious fact.
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There is an important difference between finding and creating. The word “find” implies effort should be directed outside. It implies that one’s values, beliefs, and character are out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. Youths today appear to be looking to find themselves through the reflection of their mentors. The word “create” on the other hand, directs the effort towards inside. It refers to the fact that one’s identity is very much dependent on the interpretation of the self. Believing that one is responsible for creating the answer to the question “who are you” places entire responsibility on oneself, and nominates oneself as the force of change. Understanding the mentor’s point of view and then forming your own – this is what is implied by “creating.” Hidden behind the shadows of your mentor is the true you, all waiting to be moulded into whatever you wish to be. Perhaps now you should look inside your inner self, and create yourself. It is time to walk your own steps for your own life.