On Having A Mentor: A Lesson From Alexander The Great

By Asoka Selvarajah, Ph.D

In a recent biography of Alexander the Great, the author, in exploring Alexander’s motivations and driving forces, makes some fascinating observations.

It would seem that Alexander was a devoted reader of Homer’s great epic poems, The Odyssey and the Iliad; particularly the latter. The Iliad deals with Ancient Greek ideals of hero, warfare and glory in the context of the war against the city of Troy. Alexander, it would seem, read these stories from an early age and imagined himself to be in the same line as the classic Greek heroes of yesteryear. He was quite obsessive about this poem epic and could recite large sections of it by heart. In fact, he had a special copy made for himself and took it with him on his exploits and conquests of two million square miles of the ancient world.

In particular, his great hero was Achilles, from whom he was said to be a direct descendant through his mother. Throughout his life, Alexander engaged in a sort of rivalry with his hero and sought to outdo Achilles’ exploits by his own. He also encouraged comparison between himself and Achilles.

All of this is fascinating from a number of aspects. First and foremost, it is yet another proof – as is repeatedly evidenced by all great achievers in life – that the mind creates reality. In other words, what you dwell upon becomes your reality. Dwelling on a fictional account of heroism and conquest made one man realize that reality in his own life and conquer most of the known world. This was his role model and what he continually fantasized becoming.

Secondly, in so identifying with Achilles, he effectively made him a mentor. This is another common feature of highly successful people. They all have someone they turn to, or seek to emulate.

Usually, that person is alive. Even Bill Gates has a mentor. His name is Warren Buffett; one of the greatest living stock market investors and, like Bill Gates, a multi-billionaire. So if you seek excellence in a particular field, the first thing to do is to try to find someone who already excels in it and try to make their acquaintance and ask that person to be your mentor. If that person is inaccessible (for now), then read their writings, watch their videos and imagine yourself doing the same. Ask yourself what that person would do in each situation. Imagine being that person.

However, if you have no living mentor who will do, you can create one in your imagination as Alexander must have done with Achilles. You can imagine your mentor performing at the level of excellence you desire and then, as Alexander the Great must have done, step into that person’s shoes and imagine it is you excelling and leaving the rest of the world behind.

It is so striking that all highly successful people do a huge amount of imagining and daydreaming. Most of us do not because we feel it is a waste of time and achieves nothing. Strangely, enough, it could be the most important thing we ever do. Without it, all our other “practical” efforts could go for nothing.

In conclusion, (a) seek a mentor in your field of choice – either living, dead or imagined – and seek to emulate that person’s excellence; (b) imagine and visualize your future vividly and continually. Imagine even the utterly impossible, as Alexander the Great did. If you do, who knows what might happen? Your vision of what is possible might just have to expand a lot to fit a much grander design!


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