Why I hate the word “mentor.” And other things. | Day 11


Today’s post is a bit of a rant. But give it a chance. You’ll see why.

Alternatively titled, “Why I’m anti-mentor.”

College. At some time or another, I started hearing the word “mentor” pop up here and there.

“Who taught me that? My mentor.”

“How did I get that job? My mentor.”

“I just got back from coffee with… my mentor.”
“If you don’t already, you should really find… a mentor.”

“Oh, you don’t have a mentor?”

“EVERYONE needs a mentor.”

…Excuse me? What’s a mentor? Why do I need one? Where do I get one? HOW do I get one? MENTOR MENTOR MENTOR — GAAAAH!

Merriam-Webster tells me that a mentor is:
“Mentor (noun): an experienced and trusted adviser or guide; someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.”

Example: “a friend of Odysseus entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son Telemachus.”
Odysseus had a mentor?!? I don’t?!

While I’ve had plenty of inspiring role models, coaches, teachers, bosses and babysitters, I have never referred to or viewed any of them as a “mentor.” They’ve just been… well, role models. Or whatever their title was at the time. I’ve had my share of internships, but I never saw a perceived benefit for myself other beyond valuable experience — most of which I learned myself. We never met up for coffee and deep life talks… just because. They never provided me with their innermost insights or envisioned a path for my future. They never called me their “mentee.” Therefore, the proper mentor-mentee relationship was never authorized.

Am I missing something here? All this “mentor” talk had me hungry to find out.

Question 1: Can anyone be a mentor? What allows one to obtain the status of “mentor”? Apparently not just anyone is qualified to be a mentor. “An effective mentor understands that his or her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee.” Oregon Youth Challenge clearly defines the roles of “mentee” and “mentor” in their specialized mentor training program, including a color-coated mentoring pyramid which you can view here. There is a difference between coaching, teaching, leading and mentorship. So don’t go taking the term “mentor” and tacking it onto your teachers, bosses, coaches and babysitters.

As you can see, there is a lot more to the “mentor” title than there may seem. Hence my scoffing at the term.

Other thoughts I’ve pondered: At what age or experience level does one go from mentee to mentor? What happens if someone leaves their mentor? Or has two, three, or four mentors? What happens when two mentors offer conflicting advice? How many mentees can one mentor handle? When is the right time to propose mentorship? Who does it, the mentor or mentee? Is there a secret service to getting a mentor? Is it some formalized transaction? Is there a mentor match-making service? Do I need to sign up for a paid mentorship? Does mentorship mutually benefit both sides, or could this turn into a parasitic relationship? Are there enough mentorships for the keenest mentees?

Upon further research, I’ve found varying standpoints on each of the above questions… I’m still looking into the secret service for obtaining mentors. Not that I want one, or anything.

Then I read Robert Green’s book, Mastery. There is this entire chapter called “Apprenticeship.” Sounds familiar, you say… mentorship? NO, apprenticeship. But I started to see that word sprinkled in there… as one of the six keys to mastery. Except for now, they’re not just mentors — they’re masters. And in order to become a master in any subject, we must find one.

Greene compares the process of learning to Medieval alchemy, a process of making metals come alive through a philosopher’s metaphorical stone. “The mentor is like the philosopher’s stone — through direct interaction with someone of experience, you are able to quickly and efficiently heat up and animate this knowledge, turning it into something like gold.”

Perhaps I’ve taken this post too far. Perhaps it’s time I stop doing things my own way and embark on the quest for mentorship. Maybe there’s a mentor out there for me somewhere…