The Ultimate Mentorship

Why more voices muddle the message.

Sometimes it feels like you have a hundred different voices in your head. When the path forward is unclear, each one bubbles to the surface with its two cents to offer. This sows hesitation and confusion in your mind, and it begins to feel like you can’t trust your gut anymore.

These voices are the filter through which we view the world, and they’re not something we’re born with. We didn’t come fresh out of the box preprogrammed and ready to go. We had to be sculpted by experience. Our parents played a part, but so did our friends, culture, and influences.

These voices live within us as an entity. One that we can talk to and learn from (and as I came to learn, can even surprising us). This entity is continually shaped and refined with our daily experiences. It’s a many-faced god that lives in our heads, and it’s called the Inner Advisor.

I was working in Bali when I was first introduced to the concept of an Inner Advisor. That little island is a bastion for life-coaches, Instagram shamans, and neo-medicine men, all trying to peddle their own version of wholistic health. So needless to say, when I was approached with the opportunity to attend a meditation workshop designed to connect me with my “Inner Advisor”, I was more than skeptical. However, when I came to learn that our teacher would be the “Head of Mindfulness” at Google, I couldn’t turn it down.

Asking one question to your ultimate mentor

It was exactly how you’d imagine a meditation workshop in Bali. Twenty of us arranged ourselves in a circle, sitting cross-legged and upright on a half-stuffed cushion. The sun hadn’t yet peaked over the rice paddies, but I could already feel that first uncomfortable tickle of sweat forming under my creases and folds.

We sat there, creating and destroying worlds behind the curtain of our eyelids, for nearly an hour. Our instructor had guided us through a series of mental gymnastics, with the intention of inspiring creativity and open-mindedness in the wake of our cognitive fatigue. Now, after fifty minutes of work, it was finally time to learn why I was here.

First we were to devise a question. Something addressing an imbalance in our lives. Questions like “How do I fix my financial situation?”, “Where should I look for a more rewarding career?”, or “How do I repair the relationship with my mom?”

Holding that question in mind, we imagined our ultimate mentor. A single person who held all the answers. One might imagine asking Warren Buffet about improving their relationship with money, or Serena Williams about improving their health. The goal was to craft a very specific question, and have a very specific person in mind to ask.

I was then instructed to create a doorway in my mind’s eye. Through that threshold sat my Inner Advisor. The person with all the answers. I opened the door, and I asked my question.

Without hesitation, he answered—and the answer was so wise, and succinct, and simple. There was no judgement on their part, and no shame. Just clarity. And then, a bell rang and the class was over.

Who are you an amalgamation of?

Sitting with my eyes closed for an hour, had left me exhausted. But more than that, this entire workshop felt like an affront to my sense of rationality.

How was it that, I could apparently summon the answers to my most formidable questions with ease? After all, my Inner Advisor was just me, or a part of me. This all just took place in my head, yet, I had received insight as if I was an outsider. The situation took me off guard—how could I surprise myself?

In that moment, I had two realizations.

The first was that, I wasn’t quite me. Not in the individual sense at least. I was more so an amalgamation of everyone and everything I had encountered. Like a ball of tape being rolled across a dirty floor—I was effortlessly picking up the crumbs of the people I had admired.

The second realization was that, the only barrier between me and my idols, was the richness of understanding I had of their minds and their material.

For the biggest impact, listen to few voices

What didn’t become immediately clear was that the number of relationships and advisors we let in is inversely related to the clarity of our own thoughts. That’s to say, the more faces our Inner Advisor has, the murkier the message.

It’s the difference between working through a breakup with your two closest friends, versus discussing it with a crowded room full of strangers. Beyond a certain point, more voices muddle any insights gleaned. In this way, being judicious with who we let in our heads is essential.

“You must stay with a limited number of writers and be fed by them if you mean to derive anything that will dwell reliably with you. One who is everywhere is nowhere”, advised Seneca to his young student Lucilius over two thousand years ago. To cultivate a truly insightful Inner Advisor—that’s to say, intuition or gut feeling—is to be fed by only a handful of voices.

Leave no stone unturned to embody your mentors

The biggest danger we face when consulting our Inner Advisor is receiving a low quality message. Like being tuned into a fuzzy AM radio station, the message is there, but it’s not exactly clear.

This happens when we believe we have have a more complete understanding of our heroes than we actually do. When we’ve only read one of their books, or listened to just a podcast or two. Therefore, if we wish to actually derive anything of value from our intuition, we should avoid diluting ourselves with superficial knowledge. Depth is the medium of cultivating your gut, not breadth.

By only allowing ourselves to be fed by a limited number of people, our minds can traverse the globe, and convene with the dead. If you want to know “What would Jesus do?”, it’s probably a good idea to have a deep understanding of the man. To study his acts, his deeds, the lore surrounding him—including the apocryphal—in an attempt to reconstruct the highest resolution image of him you can. The same applies to anyone else you’d like to include in your mental pantheon. You are only limited by your imagination, and willingness for rigor.

Without a rich understanding of our influences, we cannot have a rich understanding of ourselves. In time, this lack of clarity will seed indecision and stagnation in our lives. You don’t need to go to Bali to convene with your Inner Advisor. You don’t need to meditate either, you simply need to sculpt your influences with intention.

Get to really know your heroes, and keep the circle small.

—Zac

PS. If you’ve made it all the way down here and don’t feel that you’ve just wasted five minutes, consider hitting the Like button on this essay.

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