Valuable Lessons in Mentorship from Game of Thrones' Arya Stark

BY Crystal Marsh
Originally published in the Huffington Post.

If you need an example of the power of mentors, the many characters that coached Arya Stark on Game of Thrones take the cake. In few short years, Arya went from being an out of place little girl to a full-blown killing machine.

While your ambitions likely (hopefully) vary drastically from those of Arya, her character provides an impeccable model for the power of career mentoring. Here are some lessons in life-changing mentorship, courtesy of Arya Stark:

1. A mentor may not look like a mentor. Think outside your office and don't restrict yourself.

When you picture someone who could be your potential mentor, you likely envision someone who is buttoned-up and middle aged, who has climbed to the top of the corporate ladder. Because of this interpretation, many people feel that they can't find a mentor, since they don't know how to approach someone who fits that stereotypical image.

It's important to understand that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They may not be in the same industry as you, or be much older than you, or match the buttoned up visual the word "mentor" brings to mind.

When it comes to finding a mentor, be open-minded. Find someone you can learn from. That person can look like many different things.

Through the five seasons of Game of Thrones, Arya has a variety of mentors. Most of whom are truly unusual men. Imagine if Arya had been closed-minded, learning only from the strong female knight Brienne of Tarth, who most closely resembles what Arya aspires to be. Arya takes advantage of the ample opportunities to learn from others.

2. A coach is a powerful mentor whose lessons withstand the test of time.

Some people only need to work with a coach for a short period of time in order to accomplish their goals. Others will work with a coach over a much longer period of time to achieve the same. Regardless of the amount of time you spend with a mentor, the lessons you learn from a great mentor should stay with you for a long time. The tools you learn should transform the way you see yourself, and the way you view the world. You may find yourself applying the lessons you learned from an influential coach many years after ceasing a relationship with him or her.

A great example of a powerful coach from Game of Thrones is Syrio Forel. Syrio was Arya's first mentor, and an incredibly important coach. Unlike any of the others, he was hired, and compensated for the time he spent with Arya. Originally, her father Eddard Stark hired Syrio to provide Arya with "dancing lessons". Although their actual relationship lasted only a very brief time, Arya applied what she learned from Syrio throughout the series. Syrio's last appearance was in the first season, but by season four, Arya is still practicing the lessons she learned from him -- despite ridicule from her substitute mentor at the time, "the Hound."

Syrio made an incredible impact on Arya -- not just from the fighting moves she learned from him, but also the confidence he instilled in her, as well as the lessons he taught her about life and death. A good coach or mentor should provide you with powerful tools that last beyond the duration of your coaching relationship.

3. There should be mutual respect between you and your mentor -- but it's even better if your mentor sees something special in you.

Because mentor relationships are often inherently unequal, there should some sort of common ground that you have with your mentor. Mentors are generally not receiving any benefit from this relationship. The most rewarding mentor you could hope to work with is one who recognizes your potential. This gives your mentor leveraging power in the future. Being the one who discovered you, they can guide you, and may be able to have a leg up on hiring you in the future -- or use your connections for themselves.

This is vividly illustrated in Arya's relationship with Tywin Lannister, the richest man in Westeros and her family's enemy. Arya and Tywin are each looking for someone to listen to them. There is an immediate mutual respect between the two in recognition of their intelligence, which is present from the beginning of their relationship. Tywin compliments Arya on her intellect when she tells Tywin that she thought it was safer to travel dressed like a boy. Indeed, Tywin takes an almost delight in Arya's brainpower, consistently praising her for her sharpness. Tywin admires this trait in Arya even more because of her young age and gender. This commonality allows them to develop a close relationship.

Additionally, Tywin seems to provide a sort of support and encouragement to Arya -- one of the most beneficial things that can be offered by a mentor to his protégé. When Arya expresses her admiration for the legendary female warrior Visenya Targaryen, Tywin seems impressed and inspired. Such affirmation from a man like Tywin would likely be more than welcome for Arya, who has likely not felt acceptance since the losses of her father and her original mentor, Syrio Forel.

Tywin recognizes that Arya's ambitions are not baseless, and that she has the potential to be a great warrior. Discovering this brings him satisfaction.

Even if you're not aspiring to be a great fighter, there is much to be learned from Arya Stark and her careful selection of mentors and coaches throughout Game of Thrones.