In Star Wars, Episode VIII, the force ghost of Yoda tells Luke, “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”1 Although the Disney trilogy of Star Wars films has been frequently pilloried by diehard Star Wars fans of the “George raped my childhood” variety, it ,like all the other Star Wars films, has beautiful little nuggets of wisdom interspersed between the ubiquitous cheesy dialogue, dazzling special effects, and sweeping film scores.
During my self-imposed social media exile, I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of that quote, of the relationship between mentors and mentees. Over the years, I’ve found myself lurking in groups ranging from traditional Catholic concerns, to esoteric spiritual matters, to deep rabbit holes of the conspiracy variety because I have a nearly insatiable thirst for knowledge. Sometimes I linger in said groups for a bit, sometimes I flee rapidly, and sometimes I just get bored with the inevitable Sturm und Drang groups tend to produce.
But lately, I’ve wanted to add another category—move beyond. This category applies to places I’ve found useful, enlightening, or educational. Once I’ve absorbed the relevant information, I should just leave. But, sometimes I stay far too long, out of some misguided sense of loyalty to the mentor. I’ve always valued mentors because they’re stewards of knowledge. And, yet, there are precious few mentors who are permanent gatekeepers. Eventually, we become parallel with or move beyond them. That is the way of mentors and mentees.
So why stay in a position that we’ve outgrown? Comfort and insecurity are surely factors, but, really, I think dedicated students stay because we’re hoping to glean just one more pearl of wisdom from a valued mentor. Invariably though, the pace of a group can be restrictive to a student who has processed and synthesized the knowledge a mentor offers. Sometimes the disparity can be as wide as that between a doctoral student and a high school freshman. All parties, including the mentor, can be easily frustrated when wide chasms between mentees emerge.
As such, we must be able to know when it’s time to leave, to recognize that we’ve grown beyond what a mentor is offering. Acknowledging that we’ve gathered what we need is as useful a skill as knowing that we need a mentor to teach us that which we are lacking. Our life journeys are long—there will always be another mentor around the corner, and we will mentor others. It’s fine to let go, to seek a different experience, to grow beyond.
1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Walt Disney Studios, 2017).