Standing on the shoulders of giants

I could love this metaphor for the evocative visual alone. It’s an old phrase, made famous by Isaac Newton. The metaphor refers to how knowledge is furthered, built upon the knowledge of those who came before us.     

The main reason I adore this metaphor is because, when I think about my life’s journey, what readily leaps to mind are my cherished, central mentors. I’m shaped by their guidance and wisdom, and I wouldn’t feel as accomplished without the support of such remarkable people. And yes, I do love picturing them as giants, because that’s just plain amusing. 

Perhaps it’s because it’s a new year, perhaps it’s because I’m in my mid-30s, or perhaps it’s because I oversee more leaders today. This year, I’m thinking about how I share my knowledge, and how I support the sustainability of my communities. After all, one does not magically teleport onto a giant’s shoulder. The giant has to help you there. 

This isn’t a new reflection. If you’ve worked with me in the WordPress community, you’ve probably heard me advocate for a culture of mentorship and get overly enthusiastic about it. I can’t help it, empowering others in your community to take on greater roles is really freaking exciting.

It is, however, much easier said than done, so as part of my deeper rumination, I wanted to share how the giants in my life lifted and shaped who I am. The best mentors have and continue to help me in the following ways. 

  • They share their knowledge generously. My mentors applaud my curiosity and reward my endless questions with thoughtful, sometimes personal, responses. They offer their wisdom and experience openly and freely.
  • They introduce and encourage new opportunities. Whether a book or article to read, a class to explore, or a person to meet, my mentors enrich my experience. And when I express particular interests, the supplemental resources become even more thoughtfully targeted. 
  • They ask excellent questions. Questions that evoke different reflections, questions that lead to smarter decisions, questions that make me pause, questions that spur me to action. All questions that expand my perspective. 
  • When I fail, they stick with me. Failure hurts. When things don’t go as you hope, it hurts. When I hit my lowest points, my mentors listen and simply hold space for me in those moments. 
  • They are kind and honest. Instead of being nice, my mentors bolster the high standard I set for myself by helping to keep me accountable. They guide me towards my best self, even when I’m my own worst enemy.
  • When I succeed, they celebrate too. My mentors happily acknowledge when I hit a certain goal or unlock that next level. It’s clear that my mentors are inspired by empowering others.

Truth be told, I have a hard time thinking of myself as a giant. After all, I have trouble reaching the top few shelves in my kitchen (thank goodness for my much taller partner). 

At the same time, I have knowledge gleaned from standing on the shoulders of extraordinary giants to share, and know that knowledge closely held and jealously guarded will eventually be lost. The ways that my mentors help me are my guiding tenets as I mentor others.

In our communities, there are so many giants, and we collectively have immense potential to supersize members. So this year, I hope to spend more time here in my little corner of the internet, expanding on this topic. What mentorship topics would you be interested in exploring with me?