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The Value of Mentors

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We’re signing off on MAN WEEK for another year, with a few words from four of our favourite creative men, about the importance of positive mentors.

Hailing from diverse disciplines and career stages, sommelier Matt Skinner of The Drinks List, artist Reko Rennie, and the Dowel Jones design duo of Dale Hardiman and Adam Lynch offer up their thoughts on positive roles models – reflecting on those who have significantly influenced their careers, but also how they’re now paying that guidance forward!

2nd September, 2017

Sommelier Matt Skinner of The Drinks List. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Sommelier, author, and founder of The Drinks List, Matt Skinner was only a few weeks into his first full-time job when he met wine consultant and writer, Philip Rich. ‘I definitely wasn’t looking for a mentor back then, but luckily for me, that’s what he became,’ says Matt, who set up Prince Wine Store with Phillip one year after they met, in 1996. ‘Besides having taught me a huge amount about wine, Philip has given me countless opportunities to build on my knowledge and experience.’

Over the decades, Matt notes that their relationship has moved from one of mentoring to one of great friendship. ‘Phillip is still my first port of call whenever I need a sounding board for anything work-related,’ he adds.

To Matt, a mentor is an older, wiser and constant voice helping you to make informed decisions about your career path. He recommends a good place to start looking for one is in your industry – scout out someone that you aspire to be like. ‘If those people aren’t obvious, then you might need to put yourself ‘out there’ in a bid to find out who and where those people are,’ emboldens Matt. ‘Get to know as many industry professionals as you can.’

Melbourne-based artist Reko Rennie. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Some of acclaimed artist Reko Rennie’s most rewarding experiences have been working as a mentor on art projects with young people in Indigenous communities. ‘Just giving a relatively small amount of your time and attention to people who need it can have a big impact on them, and on you,’ he tells.

Reko admits that he didn’t have many positive male role models in his life growing up. ‘Now, as a mentor, I try to be the person that the younger me would have needed to meet – the kind of person who believes in you, even when you doubt yourself.’

Adam Lynch and Dale Hardiman of Dowel Jones. Photo – Annette O’Brien.

For the young designers in their mid-20s, mentors (aka ‘sounding boards’) are valuable for their ability to propose ideas and solutions that you may never have thought of, and to give you honest critical feedback to improve. ‘Most importantly, they have experience which means you can learn from that experience (good and bad) and not make the same mistakes,’ says Adam.

How then does one find a positive mentor (other than café crawling)? ‘Find someone who not only shares an interest in your work, but also shares other common interests, so it’s not always about the work,’ advises Adam, who met his informal design mentor David Stewart at a cafe a couple of years ago. ‘He has given me important business advice and guidance,’ Adam explains.

For Dale, the best mentors don’t necessarily arise from a formal arrangement. He lists designer Ross Gardam and journalist Ben Morgan as being highly influential when he was in his early 20s, at the beginning of his career. ‘They were incredibly generous with their time, helping me to develop as a designer outside of university,’ he tells.

Due to their own formative relationships with role models, the Dowel Jones duo have always been happy to mentor or meet with designers to discuss ideas. They are also currently teaching a studio at RMIT and mentoring furniture designers from the Fringe Furniture Festival. ‘These moments are great for us, as we get to meet new people both in Australia and from overseas,’ says Adam. ‘Mentoring is not only about advising or teaching another, but being self-reflective, and learning from revisiting past experiences,’ Dale adds.

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