[Story submitted for the New York Times’ The Edit]
The idea of workplace mentorship has always perplexed me. One person — full of advice — takes on a protégé — not so full on advice — to advance the career of the entry-level novice. What does it mean to be a good mentor, but more importantly for those starting their career, what does it mean to be a good mentee? I’ve had my fair share of career mentors in the past, some were good and some were oblivious to the fact that someone looked up to them. I like to dissect this modern situation and examine how we got here.
As a mentor, you’re bound to an oath to personally aid your mentee. Sounds simple enough. But then you get into the details of how much should you mentor? When do you intervene? How do you come across as someone who is dependable for a novice? These are questions I can’t answer myself, but I do know some general guidelines for mentors. The more experienced the mentor, the more difficult it can be for the mentee to connect with them. The mentee is often left feeling inferior standing next to someone with a high-rank. My biggest tip for mentors is to remind your mentee that you’re human too. You started somewhere, making mistakes and collecting failures, and ended up where you are today. Remind them you’re human and not a corporate robot. Remind them that there’s a light at the end of this corporate tunnel.
As a mentee, one of my biggest mistakes was wasting my time and energy on a mentor that didn’t care about me. My mentor was one with many accolades in the industry and was assigned by the company. This mentor was only assigned to me because they wanted the title of mentor and desired more recognition for their own accomplishments. Starry-eyed and naive, I was working simply to be acknowledged by my mentor as an equal. Ultimately, I was disappointed and felt resentment to the entire situation. My point to this story is that mentees should kill their heroes. You could be given the best mentor in the world, but if they could be a person who doesn’t care about you in the slightest. Stop putting your mentor on a pedestal. Fame does strange things to people. If you find yourself with a mentor like this, take a step back and focus on yourself. Don’t worry about what your mentor thinks.
These are some basic stories and guidelines for career relationships. If these guidelines are followed, the relationship can blossom and both people can benefit. If these guidelines aren’t upheld, the relationship can be as beneficial as eating a Tide Pod.