Startup Diaries: The Hero's Journey Part IV: Meeting With The Mentor

The Hero's Journey Part IV In a tribute to US mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, who asserted that all mythical heroes experience the same 12 steps on their adventures, Ondina Montgomery draws parallels between Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and that of the entrepreneur.

Part 4 of the Hero’s Journey describes the protagonist’s Meeting with the Mentor, where the hero encounters someone who can give them advice and ready them for the journey ahead. Click here to read the third part of Ondina’s series, The Hero’s Journey Part III: Refusal of the Call. 

In life, we meet so many people with a wealth of knowledge, that it can be difficult to recognize who is a real mentor to us or who is just an incredibly interesting person! For me, I was at a major crossroads in my life, and as I started to eliminate all the things I didn’t want, it seemed that there were so many links to everything, that if I just took a razor to it then I would soon be living in a void.

The issue that weighed heaviest on me was that I felt totally out of control. I felt that nothing I would or could do would ever make a difference.The things that I felt were important and that I wanted to have a voice in - specifically, the planet I lived on and its fragile environment, the designs creating the environments I lived in, and the people I chose to share my life with - were completely at odds with my current life. It was as if my life compass had vertigo.

So to find my true north, I started with what I thought was the easiest one first. The people in my life! I felt that the answers I were seeking were not wrapped in logic, but in creativity. So I simply spent more time around creative people involved in fashion and the arts.

The creative community is like a living octopus, whose multiple tentacles led me to meet people from all walks of life, far removed from the world’s tourism.

They may not have all been great at what they did ... but what they lacked in certain areas, they definitely made up for with passion. Painters, photographers, stylists, actors, filmmakers and inventors soon filled my life. I didn't miraculously meet my mentor, but I was really starting to enjoy myself and the new path I had embarked on. It felt like I had started an adventure at last.

And soon enough after I entered this amazing world, I was introduced to a very remarkable man. A very unassuming person, who by all appearances was a simple farmer from the country. Dr Jim Frazier. Looking back, he actually does look like a “mentor”, not unlike a well-groomed Gandalf! He had gentle grey hair and a beard (not that long), and yes, he even smoked a pipe!  It just so happened that I was invited to his property in the country for a weekend, and there on that nature reserve in northern NSW, it felt like some real magic happened for me in my life. 

After spending the weekend there with this man and his group of friends, I realized a major point that even today I still struggle with. “It is not until you give up control that you realize how little control you had in the first place”. Let me elaborate. My mentor, as it turns out, was far from a simple country gentleman. He was an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, and had won an Emmy to boot. He was, at one point, one of the most awarded photographers in the industry. He was given an honorary doctorate in Science and an Order of Australia, and was considered one of the top 10 Australian inventors of all time. He was a celebrated artist, having created a brand new proprietary art form (Crystal Art), and was a world authority on the environment. It was as if I had found the mother of all mentors!

Over the next six months I met with him on numerous occasions, in both the city and at his property. At first I thought, “How clever this man must be to have master-minded his whole career with agents and publicists and strategists and advisors who all carefully manicured his career, steering it to international recognition and success.” In fact I could not have been further from the truth! 

What this man had actually done was found his passion and focused on it. And the more he focused, the more like a magnet he became, attracting help from the most unexpected quarters.

Just like Goethe said in Commitment! It all seemed so easy, I thought, so I decided to tackle the second hardest thing I wanted to have a say in. Design in my life! I started an interior design course. And I loved it! For those that are not sure what interior design is, it is best described as follows. If you could tip a house upside down, all the things that fall out … that is interior design ;-).

Life seemed to be falling into place. I was living I've Oz; I had met the man of my dreams and was now happily married; I was studying what I really wanted to do; I had a great part time job working just forty hours per month and choosing the days I worked, and being paid as if I was working the equivalent of three weeks in my old tourism job. It all seemed too easy. Then suddenly my husband got a new posting overseas in Singapore, and all the things that had fallen into place seemed to evaporate in front of my eyes. The move to Singapore was the last thing I wanted. I had left Denmark to live in Australia, and now I felt like I was following my husband off on HIS adventures, rather than following my own. I remember my husband saying to me, “Change is stability.”  In other words, if we don’t change, we can stagnate (seems like you can have more than one mentor at a time). 

True to his word, change was stability. It is hard to leave comfort zones, but, more often than not, they are platforms we pass through on our journey.

Before I got to Singapore, I enrolled in a design course, and what I thought was going to be a breezy interior design course turned out to be anything but. The hours were grueling and the training was ruthless, and for the first year it felt more like we were doing architecture. And in fact we were doing interior architecture that was training me to work hand in hand with architects.

In those two years, I learnt more about design and my environment than I ever dreamed possible in such a short space of time. I remember before the course Jim Frazier and my husband used to say I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Anything! Naturally, I refused to accept this and had many arguments about my supposed capability when it came to doing certain things. Like creating a book and publishing it, or starting my own business. 

I hated to do things that made me feel out of control; things that I felt I might fail at doing. But in life there are a lot worse things than failing, and one of them is not having a go.

It’s as if when you say you can’t do something enough, it becomes true, like a self-fulfilling prophesy. So I reversed it, and started saying I COULD do things. The power of the word. The power of thought. And then, in my last term at college, a good thought came to me. Why not start a company up that specialized in fabrics! Amazing fabrics, with incredible designs and colors, for everything from wallpaper to scarves. From curtains to Kaftans! In my mind’s eye, I could now see a clear direction for me. And MAH (Mad About Hue) was born.

For the first time, I had a feeling I was heading in the right direction. I felt the wind under my wings. When you start to believe in yourself, it is incredible all the unexpected assistance that comes your way. 

But like any good story, the journey, no matter how right it feels, will have a dark forest to pass through, and before I could get to a position where I might have a hand in saving the planet, I still had a dragon or two to slay along the way … but not until I had truly crossed the threshold!  

To be continued........

Ondina Montgomery grew up in Denmark and has always been passionate about Art and Design. Raised by a family of artists including her creative grandmother and her artist father, a highly accomplished painter and sculptor, working with artists and designers comes naturally. Before living in South East Asia, she traveled the world extensively, eventually settling in Sydney in 2006.

During her time in Australia, she started a design course and become involved in diverse design-related projects. After moving to Singapore in 2010 to expand her knowledge and her international client base, she obtained her Interior Design Diploma from Lasalle College of The Arts Singapore and then decided it was time she founded her own company. MAH was born! As the CEO and Curator of MAH she works with a broad range of artists, designers and photographers who share her interest and passion for scarves.

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