On Being A Good Apprentice

At Cattle Raids recently I took an apprentice. You probably can tell I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that by some earlier posts. This post is about what I believe makes a successful apprentice relationship.

I’ve been in several positions as the apprentice and the mentor both within the SCA and without. And my apprenticeship relationship knowledge is gleaned from my mentors. From my days as a hospital Unit Secretary when I was in my 20s to being a military wife in my 30s and later as an apprentice in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I’ve learned from people more knowledgeable than me.

Some relationships were successful, long lasting friendships. Others were frustrating and tiresome. Everyone learns differently and everyone coaches differently. It’s no different in the SCA.

This is what I’ve observed and what’s worked for me. You may agree or maybe you won’t.

Be Purposeful

Ask yourself why you want to learn from your selected possible mentor, whether peer or other esteemed person. This isn’t about what specifically you want to learn but the reason you want that particular learning experience relationship.

As a service wife there’s no school to attend, but there are traditions and etiquette to follow. And you don’t want to make your military spouse look bad. That could affect their advancement and your future life. So you find a more experienced person to guide you.

In the SCA you might seek an expertly skilled glassworker just to learn their methods. Maybe one that’s not even a peer. You just want to become a glassworker. Simple as that. You don’t need to break it down into goals if it’s only the experience you want. Setting specific goals in this situation might be disappointing if they aren’t met. You can make the choice for experience’s alone.

Be Deferential

This is a tough one when you’ve been successful elsewhere in your life. But it’s necessary to be a good apprentice. Accept you may be clueless or mess up especially in the beginning. Choosing to be someone’s apprentice or SCA student means throwing your vulnerable self into the tasks and experiences shared.

Peers are not flawless. They make mistakes too. I tell people I’ve learned valuable things working with a peer or mentor who was more an example of how not to do things. Accept them for who they are but learn from their flaws and inefficiencies. Their way of doing things may seem chaotic with inefficiencies, messes and, unfinished projects. But it’s not an apprentice’s place to point it out to them. This isn’t your opportunity to change them, their work-space or routine. Curb your urge to unfurl your ego.

Let yourself be bossed around. I don’t mean your peer should be a jerk. I mean allow yourself to do what they ask. If they aren’t telling you something to do ask.

The best skill you’ll learn in the SCA – or even life – is doing what needs done before you’re asked to do it. This shows others you’re paying attention. It demonstrates initiative and leadership.

Make it a habit to ask yourself “What’s missing; what needs done?” Of course then do it yourself. That’s actually the key to being a Pelican. Like the Nike motto, “Just Do It”

Be Open-minded

Don’t be afraid to become something you’re not normally. Get uncomfortable. Being an apprentice is your opportunity to try different ways of thinking or acting. Push yourself, challenge yourself, go beyond you’re comfort zone. Give yourself 100% to the relationship and be open to the experiences coming your way.

Be upset. Maybe hate your peer with fury. Regret your choice. Go to sleep and wake up to realize in the morning there’s nothing else you’d rather learn. No one you know who would coach you better or where you could receive the sublime, joyous adventures you’ve had.

You may form habits for fun that transfer to your “real life”. It’s also a great way to enhance who you are at your core.

Be Questioning

Ask if there is a particular way to do something, especially if your mentor wasn’t clear about the task. You are not expected to have all the answers. It’s why you became an apprentice, at least in part.

If you feel self conscious, I learned to say “sorry for asking so many questions, I just want to get it done right.” You’re doing this to learn. Why short yourself? Lose your pride and ask. Ask as often as you need.

Soak Up Everything

I don’t mean to repeat myself again but soak up everything you can. Observe intensely. Listen heedfully. Ask all the questions you want.

You chose this mentor because you heartily wanted to learn from them about their field of expertise. For me, I read tons about calligraphy and illumination, looked at as many historic images as I could find. – This was preinternet, – Took classes whenever I could. But I wanted the human connection, inspiration, and direction. That’s how I learn best.

SCA “households” offer this opportunity as well. As you work together on projects you learn serendipitous details. When they intrigue you and draw you in, let them in. Ask if you can learn more or try your hand whatever it is. This is how I learned about costuming even though I was on a C & I path.

But in the SCA along with the craft you learn there are its laws, social interactions and functions. Learning how “the Dream” works today. You don’t get that from books or journals. So soak up all the knowledge. Store every drop.

All this being said, your mentor – your SCA peer – isn’t expecting you to make their life easier or someone who’ll throw their cloak over a puddle where they’re about to walk. We receive inspiration from you.

Realize is this isn’t a one-way street. Peers benefit from the relationship too. We no longer have the luxury to learn from people over us. Instead we learn from you. Insights, perspectives, possibilities become new to us again. We think of what you’re giving us, how to adapt it, and how it can best be shared. You give your mentor an opportunity to keep growing. A treasure I hold dear.

Categories: Musings

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