Here’s How Having a Mentor Changed The Entire Course of My Career

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Mentors are all around you, but it’s up to you to notice them.

My most meaningful mentor arrived in my life at a time when I’d lost all hope in my own creativity and career path.

I was mid-way through a Bachelor of Communications degree and really losing the will to rock up to class. You know that feeling when it hits 3pm, your mind goes fuzzy and you feel like you need a nap or a coffee, or both? That’s where my head was at — permanently.

Like so many of us, I went to uni without a clear idea of what I wanted to do, hoping that meeting new people and learning new things would inspire me to go in a specific direction.

I’ve always been good at writing, public speaking and coming up with creative concepts, which all seemed to lead me in the direction of ‘Communications’. But instead of feeling inspired while studying it, I felt confused. The communications industry is so broad and no aspect of it was standing out to me. Everything felt really out of reach. I knew what I could technically do for work, I just couldn’t envisage myself doing it.

But then, one day, I walked into Antonio’s classroom and my career finally started to take shape.

The class’s subject was ‘Features & Storytelling’, and it delved into long-form, investigative journalism.

I’d wanted to be a journalist when I was younger, but as I grew older and jobs in the journalism industry became dwindling, I was talked out of it. Plus, I was convinced that journalism would force me to write in a specific way that didn’t come naturally to me. I assumed that doing as an occupation would take away my creative license.

I was wrong.

‘Features & Storytelling’ quite literally saved my uni degree — not to mention led me to writing this story today.

Created by journalist and academic Antonio Castillo, the class saw us identifying a person who inspired us, researching them and then writing a long-form piece about them. Scattered in between this big assignment were small writing exercises, panel discussions with the editors of various publications and mentoring sessions with Antonio himself, giving us the chance to ask him any questions about things we were stuck on.

I don’t think I realised it at the time, but this uni subject and it’s teacher changed the course of my career. I’d been so set on doing something practical that I hadn’t even stopped to consider that my passion — writing — could be my career choice.

Antonio introduced us to editors in our lectures, and then afterwards, he’d put us into contact with them via emails, which made the idea of working in the industry so much more attainable. He brought a collection of the writers’ works to us so we could see it, touch it and have conversations about it. For me, it gave me the confidence to pursue internships at publications without any previous experience.

Although Antonio mentored me throughout this uni subject without even knowing it, the real mentoring came after uni.

Last year when COVID first struck, I found myself without a steady job for the first time in ten years. I’d been a student of Antonio’s two years earlier and had been slowly working towards a writing career ever since.

I’d completed a three-month internship at VICE Australia and had been working there as a freelance contributor, as well as a conceptual copywriting for a number of agencies. But I wanted to do more. So, I cut back on that work and began pitching to publications I hadn’t written for before, in order to build up a bit of a portfolio as a freelance writer.

I reached out to Antonio. I sent him an email, gushing about his class and how it had inspired me to become a writer by trade. I asked him if he could help me with some pitches and if he could edit some of my work before sending I submitted it. I wrote that I wasn’t even sure he’d remember me.

“Of course I remember you,” he wrote back in an email that same day. “I’ve used some of your writing to show my students in class!”

And that’s how he officially became my mentor. He was my point of call for new ideas. I’d call him about pitches, send him through my drafts, text him random questions and sentence structure… and he would come back with notes, ideas and improvements.

Not only did he support my writing and help me to become a technically better writer, but he also had this faith in my ability to write, which gave me the confidence I needed to be fearless and write without boundaries.

“You write, so you’re a writer,” he had once told me. Those words really changed my outlook. He’d said them with such certainty, as though he was surprised he had to say it out loud.

Many of us feel like we have impostor syndrome if we call ourselves a job title that we’re not getting paid for — particularly in creative industries. For some reason, in our minds, loving to write and writing as a hobby alone doesn’t make us a “writer” — because it’s not our job. Antonio was the one who taught me that that that isn’t true. As soon as he said it, it made sense.

If you embody the things you want, start to label them as your reality and go about your daily routine thinking “yeah, I’m a writer”, then that will slowly become your reality. Before anything will actually happen, you’ve got to believe it will.

It’s really difficult to break out as a creative in this world. There’s no rule book or lessons taught on how to believe in your work and yourself in ways that will motivate you to pursue a career of passion (though there really should be a course on it).

Antonio came into my life as a beacon of inspiration at a time when I really needed it, and I clung to that inspiration as living proof of my passion for writing. I’d say that although neither of us really knew it, he was my mentor from the moment I walked into his classroom. And he still continues to be a source of knowledge and inspiration for me today.

Although I’m not bombarding him with questions and late-night phone calls, he’s always there if I need to bounce around ideas or help with some editing. Or even just for a great chat, a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta.

My advice would be: don’t search for a mentor. They’re actually all around us and we don’t even know it. All we have to do is to be open to learning, growing and being inspired. Also, we can’t be afraid of change.

If you follow your dreams and talents, and go where your passions lie, the mentors will come to you. And, just like mine did, they might just change your life.

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