Learning from a mentor is a very powerful way to build an expertise with a skill for many reasons. First and foremost, you are a recipient of a wealth of knowledge from an interpersonal relationship; there is value in hearing candid responses and stories about a mentor’s experiences – things not easily passed along in other ways. Second, they provide feedback regarding how well you are learning skills – an essential ingredient in becoming a master of a skill. Third, they teach you methodologies or practiced approaches in applying their skills. Fourth, they empower you to think outside of the “box”. Finally, you build a relationship with your chief advocate.
It is not always easy finding mentors, but it is worth seeking them out. My mentor was a supervisor on a project we worked on together. I had been groomed to program an application and he was the mastermind behind the design of the application. I experienced all of the advantages mentioned in the paragraph above, particularly the “empowerment” aspect – something that had a major impact on my expertise with the skill of application development. I gave him assurance I could program new functionality as were conceptualizing it, and he held me accountable; I delivered. The original concept morphed into this robust application that had much more functionality than what we had originally conceived.
A benefit in having a mentor that might be overlooked is the passing on of methodologies: ways of applying a skill. A mentor is typically an expert in their field, someone who has been practicing their skill set for many years. Whether they learned a method from someone else or developed the method themselves, they have a proven way of applying their skills and are usually willing to pass it on to you. Examples of methods might be a design for programming, a style of writing, or managing files.