In my life, I have never had someone I could call a mentor. That almost sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? Surely there was someone, somewhere along the way that I turned to for guidance and support … right? Well, I’ve been thinking about this for weeks and I haven’t been able to recall anyone.
How is this possible? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest … but if I were to look back and evaluate my career, my journey is rife with missed opportunities and unnecessarily circuitous pathways. I am well aware of the value the right sort of mentor can provide to an individual because I’ve lived what happens when you don’t have one.
Here’s the other kicker, I haven’t been a mentor to someone in my life either. I was in an AIA mentorship program many years ago that paired me as the mentor to a young woman, but she moved out of town shortly after the program commenced … not sure what I should read into that.
There’s something that always comes to mind whenever I think about mentorship. Whenever I think I am in a position to guide and instruct the young people in my profession … I think of cats. For the record, I currently share my home with one dog and two cats, and I can honestly say that I enjoy all of them. My dog is awesome and incredibly smart … she doesn’t do anything she shouldn’t and is eager to please. The cats, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about trying to please anyone … they do what they want. However, I don’t want these cats jumping up on my counters, tables, etc. because cats put their feet in nasty places and it just seems unsanitary to me. Of course, when you first get them and they’re kittens, they seem to go out of their way to jump up on top of all the things you don’t want them to, so you have to train them to avoid this sort of behavior.
So that’s what we do – we train our cats to stop jumping up on top of tables and countertops.
Or do they?
I think all we’ve actually trained them to do is to not jump up on top of the tables and countertops when we are in the room.
So when my thoughts turn towards imparting my wisdom to the younger members of my profession, especially when they might not be receptive to hearing the message, I think of cats … because just like cats, young people do what they want.
Mentorship is intended to be a mutually beneficial arrangement between two interested individuals, but it can really only be instigated by the younger party. I often hear that this entire site is a form of mentorship … sort of a “mentorship by proxy”, and I couldn’t disagree more. At best, my website is full of unsolicited advice made available to people who are looking for some sort of information or guidance, but without the give-and-take of a meaningful dialog over an extended period of time, it is lacking at its core the real value that mentorship provides.
the most important component to the mentorship is the re-evaluation that occurs over time.
I am all for people finding a mentor – someone who you can turn to for support and guidance. This person should be in a leadership position in your firm but preferably someone other than your boss. Depending on the size of your firm you might not have that many options but complaining to your boss about things may not be the best idea. Finding a sounding board, someone you can vent, ask questions, get recommendations, etc. is a very good thing. Finding someone in your own office who understands the culture and the personalities in play will be able to help you far more than someone else, but the most important component to the mentorship process is re-evaluation over time. Act and react, course correction when new data is taken into consideration and the possibility of modifying (or changing completely) your goals and objectives.
In the meantime, don’t confuse someone who is giving out advice for someone in the role of mentor. The main distinction is that someone giving advice can pop onto the scene, drop some poorly considered advice bomb on you, and then enjoys the luxury of not necessarily being around to pick up the pieces or deal with the consequences. A real mentor is someone who evolves with you, is invested in the outcomes, and is there to mutually celebrate your successes.