I was lucky enough to have Darwin Ortiz as a mentor when I was younger. I learned magic on my own for the first 10 years. I picked up lots of bad habits along the way. When I was 20, I was fortunate enough to meet Darwin and qualify to be one of his students. I’d like to share my views on why having a mentor is the key to mastering your craft.
A mentor is a trainer, an advisor, a teacher, and someone you aspire to be like someday. When you first get into magic, having a mentor usually isn’t something you’re thinking about. You tend to learn just fine from books and DVD’s. I did the same. You’ll also reach a point where you believe that you don’t need a mentor. (This is the “a little bit of knowledge is dangerous” part.) I was there too. At 18 years old, I thought I had it all figured out. It turns out I knew nothing.
When I first met Darwin, he could see that I had potential. But I’m sure he knew that almost everything I was doing was wrong. A good mentor knows how to tell you you know nothing without actually saying those words. He began giving me small lessons on several different topics and helped me understand the learning process. This is the “one foot in front of the other and before you know it you’ve climbed a mountain” part.) Little by little, everything was changing.
At first, there were a few topics I pushed back on. I disagreed on a few topics we discussed. Looking back, I realized that was ridiculous. Think about it. I had 10 years of experience. Darwin had 50 years of experience. Who knows more? However, he let me push back. Over the next few years, I started getting more experience and began realizing that his points were correct. That wasn’t an accident. He built the opportunities for me to learn and figure out on my own that I was wrong.
Over the next 4 or 5 years, I realized that everything that I started with was gone. All the tricks I’d learned, gone. The sleights I spent years learning, gone. Everything including theory, practicing, rehearsing, effect construction, performing, etc., it was all gone. I was a clean slate now. We started over and began building everything from a solid foundation.
You can’t learn everything at once. You need a mentor to help keep you on track. A good mentor knows how to break things down into more manageable pieces. Learning like this keeps you motivated. It’s easier to trust your mentor when you start seeing results. Several years into this relationship, I’d still veer off course with a theory issue. Or, I’d develop bad habits with a particular sleight. Darwin could instantly get me back on track. Over the years, I’d start to see these flaws myself. Today, I can enjoy the craft of magic and be confident that I’m on the correct path.
So, how do you get a mentor? Books, DVD’s, downloads, podcasts, and YouTube tutorials are great. However, they are a one-way street. The information comes at you, and that’s it. It’s your job to figure out how to manage this information. Our brains can’t take in lots of new information and simply process it and instantly understand it. Read a book on nuclear physics from cover to cover and tell me you understand it well enough to teach it. You’d need to read that book, and apply the content over and over and over for years to build the proper comprehension of the material. In other words, you need experience out in the field. This is the “do anything for 10,000 hours and you’ll be a master” part.
To learn correctly, you need to be able to ask questions and get the proper feedback. You need to learn in phases. You need someone to start you at first grade and guide you to college. Why not have someone guide you that’s done it before you and has done it right? When you teaching yourself, you create barriers. What makes it difficult is that you don’t know what the barriers are. A mentor is the only way to identify those barriers. (Unless you want to find them yourself over the next 50 years.)
So, find someone in your field that understands the craft well. Sit with them face to face if possible. Learn from them. Surrender to them and allow them to show you the way. Find multiple people to do this with and see which person makes the path to greatness the clearest. And most importantly, learn that you must enjoy this journey to mastering your craft.