McKean Minute: When Mentoring, Any Amount Will Do

We talked a couple weeks ago that one of the main attributes of being a mentor is simply showing up, being available to someone who has questions and needs guidance.

The second great attribute is to give that guidance in any amount. Many of us get intimidated by the idea that in order to be a good teacher, we need to give all of ourselves. While some of us have a bottomless reservoir of outreach, most of us simply don’t have the time, energy, or enthusiasm to answer every question that comes around or to be available around the clock.

If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Powderhook, the mobile app that promises to connect mentors with what we’re calling “mentees,” or beginning hunters. That connection happens in custom “camps,” which are basically virtual classrooms, places where that education exchange can happen.

A number of these camps have multiple mentees all seeking advice and direction from a single mentor. When I first heard about this disproportionate balance, I fretted just a little. How could a single mentor adequately serve all the people thirsty for their perspective? I was stuck on a notion of mentoring that told me that it’s a one-on-one relationship.

But the deeper I dive into Powderhook and its potential as that classroom, the more I understand that a single mentor can serve any number of mentees, simply by being available to answer a single question, or offer a single insight. Mentoring doesn’t have to be onerous, exhausting, or draining. In fact, it can be the opposite, as long as you show up, and are available to answer just a question or two.

I just got feedback from a mentee who is curious about bowhunting. They’re in the initial stages of what can be a steep climb to acquire the correct gear, and there are so many choices that they reached out to me for advice. It’s an easy gift to give, my perspectives on the right type of bow, broadhead, and release for the hunting they’ll be doing. And it turns out that the question one mentee had was shared by the other members of the camp, so my answers had a compounding effect.

Instead of feeling depleted by giving myself, I feel energized. And now I can’t wait to hear the follow-up questions. Doing this a couple times quickly compounds into a half-dozen, then a score. This is how we build new hunters and outdoorsfolks, by being available, answering questions, giving our perspectives. And it’s a method that can quickly grow the ranks of knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and engaged hunters.

– Andrew McKean

Take Him

If you give a boy a NERF gun, he will want to shoot it.
You’ll buy him the coolest NERF gun you can find, and then he will probably want some extra bullets and another gun, too.
Then, he will probably start asking you to set up his toy animals to shoot, or to play war with he and his friends. And even though you want to sit on the couch and watch the Cubs, he will insist, and his insistence will win.
Eventually, you will buy the boy a bb gun, and he will want pellets and some targets to go with it. Then he’ll want a place to go shoot it, and you’ll find him one.
And then, if you’re lucky, life as you know it will change.
Idle weekends at home will be few and far between. You will see more corners of your county than you ever thought reasonable. Your day off will be spent hauling gear and decoys and crappy old tents and crazy boys all over tarnation chasing whatever’s in season.
And your house will be a mess. And your truck will be dirty.
You’ll spend his teenage years freezing in a duck blind or burning to death on a folding chair at a trap meet. He’ll spend his teenage years gaining confidence and friends, and learning new skills, having fun and getting dirty. You’ll teach him what it means to be a man while he makes you feel young again.
And you will be there the day he shoots his first squirrel, his first rooster, and his first deer. And he will make you so proud.
And right before your eyes, your little boy will be transformed from the toddler who ran around shooting his sister with the NERF gun, into a hunter, a man.
When you give a boy a gun, you don’t give him a weapon. You give him a way of life – a talent, curiosity, dreams, and friends – a place to learn about life, room to grow as a person, and bravery, and drive, and memories.
And he will have all of these things, simply because you gave a boy a gun.
And took him.

McKean Minute: Make a Difference – Show Up

I coach middle school cross country. Most weekdays from late August through mid-October, I drop whatever it is I’m doing, lace up my running shoes, put a whistle around my neck, and encourage three dozen awkward, gangly kids who are not my own to run (and, some days, to simply walk) with purpose.

Most autumn weekends, I get on a yellow school bus and accompany the team to a race somewhere in my windy corner of northeastern Montana.

I started coaching because my own kids were on the team, and it was another way to be involved with their lives. What I realized along the way—at about the same time they did—is that I was doing a lot more coaching of other peoples’ kids than I was of my own.

What I also realized along the way, and am reminded about daily, is that coaching is not really about teaching my Glasgow Scotties about racing tactics, or accumulating team titles and individual medals. Coaching is about encouragement. And the foundation of encouragement is simply showing up. Many of these kids don’t have an adult in their lives who simply shows up, every day and without excuse, on their behalf. It’s a small but critical ingredient in coaching at any level.

I mention this not to impress you with my level of civic engagement, but because many of you who read this are attracted to the notion of coaching. Not middle school runners, but prospective hunters. Equal to your interest is your apprehension. How can you ever mentor people you don’t know? How do you start? And what are the expectations?

Mentoring is a little like sewing a quilt by hand. Or carving a chair out of a stump. Every new hunter is the result of hard and custom work, but that’s also what gives each of us our unique grain and combination of experiences. Where the relationship between a mentor and an apprentice goes is impossible to predict, but each one is handmade.

And every single relationship starts because the mentor showed up.

As this autumn unfolds, and each of us experienced hunters thrums to the possibility of the season, think about introducing someone new to your world. Don’t fret about where your path goes. But start somewhere. And then keep showing up. It makes all the difference.