We were talking about where we wanted to see ourselves 15 years later. Sitting in a warmly-lit basement, some of us were students of psychology, some were people in recovery and there were two therapists.

“I want to see myself as someone who would be a good role model to the me I am today," I had said. “I want to be the person I wish I had in my life right now."

More than 15 years later, I often find myself in workshops with young adults. Sometimes I make a better impression than I had expected. Other times they are too preoccupied to look up and take proper notice of this person trying so hard to influence them.

Today was a particularly bad day. I feel like I have failed. I have been in a project with a young person for the past few months and I have reached a point where I am calling it off before its time. I am walking away from someone whose hand I would have liked to hold for a long time to come. I feel exhausted and distracted by the overwhelming emotion that I have been unable to help someone who seems just like a younger version of me.

This is not defeat, this is life, my friend consoles me. I call my own teacher to hear her voice. I have been writing a series of letters to her in my head for a while now. I must type them out, I keep thinking, remembering that mentors need support too. She is a powerful woman who can see through the fog with piercing clarity, and I find myself turning to her for guidance. If I feel like calling her for help, then this must be a critical decision, I think to myself.

She tells me what I want to hear. “Take a tough stand," she says immediately. “Yes, thank you," I say.

Then she calls back a few hours later and says, “Be kind, Natasha, be very loving and gentle as you do what you have to do."

“Thank you," I say. “Thank you". I desperately needed to get this permission. I want to put aside the anger and disappointment that has run its course. I want to be able to see the decision to quit as the better choice than carrying on enabling a destructive structure.

Today I was ready for what I heard but it hasn’t always been this straightforward. All my past history of receiving unexpected, seemingly preposterous ideas from my teacher has prepared me for this day.

Mentors give us perspective. A good mentor doesn’t always guide us to get what we want for ourselves. She shows us how much better we can aim for. A great mentor challenges our hand-me-down idea of success and failure. She opens windows and shows us the view we were missing all along. She removes the lid off our limited idea of what we are capable of, revealing vast untapped reserves under the surface. We resent her for doing this. She is prepared to withstand hate.

Of course, nothing is neatly packaged in real life. Some mentors may come too early and we can’t deal with the premature lessons. We choose mentors who don’t choose us. Our mentors get exhausted. They grow old and lonely and need a reversal in our relationship with them.

At some juncture, we find that no one seems to fit and we create imaginary role models. We find them in books and movies, on the Internet and on television. Sometimes we are startled to find them in our own diaries written decades ago and tucked away in a cupboard. The lessons we need to summon may not be new, they had just become obscure, and shine again as we turn a page.

We worry that we have forgotten and forsaken our early dreams. We feel guilt and shame that those who had faith in us may be feeling betrayed. But when we step back and look carefully, we may find that we are very close to where we wanted to reach one day.

Sometimes, fleetingly, one sees the bridge between what one has become and who one wanted to be. It is precious, like a rainbow.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She writes a fortnightly column on family and relationships.

Also Read | Natasha’s previous Lounge columns