The Magic of Mentoring,

The Nisus Thesaurus on my computer describes a mentor as: ‘A wise and trusted guide and advisor.’ I think this is a concise and excellent place to begin this essay. Mentoring is a term that is used much less frequently these days than it was in my younger days.

If you have a computer, Google and an Internet connection then you either already know everything or with a few clicks on the keyboard you can do so. If life were really that simple wouldn’t it be grand with everybody an expert. However, it just doesn’t work that way. Computers are wonderful for giving you access to almost any information you need. From making an atom bomb to palming a card, it is all there, as long as you know the right questions to ask. There is an added ingredient necessary though.

This is when a wise, trusted, guide and advisor enters into the picture. He is the one who can help you determine exactly what are the right questions for you to ask. As my favorite fugitive futurist and digital pioneer used to say about politics; “If you can get people to ask the wrong questions then it doesn’t matter what answers you give them, even the truth!” No wonder they locked him up! It’s not about the answers but the questions.

In the old days, information was a very special commodity, if time was money then knowledge was the big bucks. In magic, we searched through books for our information but more often than not, actual wisdom was transferred one on one. In my younger days, it was often the owner of your favorite magic shop who was the first person to help shape and develop your talents and strengths. 

As a young man visiting magic shops and being able to learn from Jon Tremaine, Pat Page and Ken Brooke was a very special privilege that transcended the mere act of buying a trick. When I arrived in America in 1974 you could still go to the magic shop and receive wise and trusted advice from the likes of Jay Marshall, Al Flosso, Jules Lenier or Mike Skinner. Their interest and love of magic far exceeded their desire to merely make a sale. They were advisors.

Nowadays much magic is purchased through the Internet and the personal touch is all but gone. The guys who make a good living selling magic are the good businessmen and not always the true magicians. I say this with love in my heart for them but would you really expect to get the same career guidance from Hank Lee or Joe Stevens that you would from a Ken Brooke or Patrick Page. I think not.

After I left England and Ken Brooke, the next mentor who furthered my career was the inimitable Billy McComb. Billy taught me not just what to do but how to do it and why. I remember Billy explaining to me that when performing the Gypsy Thread to a large audience that you needed to light and sell it larger than life. When you broke that tiny piece of thread your whole shoulders had to move. It wasn’t that you needed that much strength to break it but it allowed the people in the back of the auditorium to realize what you were doing, even if they couldn’t see the thread they saw your shoulders move!

While I am a great believer in the act of mentoring, I am absolutely opposed to the random giving of advice that so often takes place at magic clubs and conventions. Unless you have a special bond with that ‘wise and trusted advisor,’ you can do yourself more harm than good by following every bit of advice given to you. The majority of it is given in the spirit of “I know something you don’t, look at me, I’m cleverer than you are!” 

I run a mile when someone whom I don’t know and respect, comes up to me after a show to tell me how to improve a routine that is probably more carefully assembled than he can even imagine. Nine times out of ten he is going to tell me something that I already know and have dismissed for a very sound personal reason. Therein is the difference between information and knowledge- a meddler and a mentor.

Magic needs more mentors to pass on the knowledge that they have accumulated. When acquired in a careful and considered fashion this knowledge is the personal ‘one on one’ way to improve our art. However, this is only possible by understanding the person you are giving your knowledge to. Otherwise, instead of mentoring you are merely speaking about yourself, to yourself and thus pouring nothing into the void.

~ by Nick Lewin on July 24, 2019.

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