On Mentorship

People have different perceptions of what mentorship is.

For some, mentorship is having a big brother, big sister, motherly, or fatherly figure to help them navigate their lives. For others, mentorship is frequent check-ins ranging from weekly to monthly just to see how things are going and answer a few burning questions. Still for others, mentorship is having a knowledgable person guide you through particular areas in life who keep in daily contact to make sure you are keeping to your goals, answering questions, navigating religious matters, social matters, professional matters, or even family matters. Something akin to an AA sponsor. Others see the latter as more of “life coaching”, which is actually a fairly new term in relation to mentoring.

The word “mentor” has different connotations to different people. Know exactly what you expect from a mentor and what the mentor is willing to give. You both will need to lay out exactly what is expected from both parties, and what each party is willing to give before either party agrees to enter the mentorship. This will save everyone a lot of headache and disappointment down the road.

Having had a few mentors over the years, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about mentorship. Some things to consider when choosing a mentor are personality, values, expectations, boundaries, motivation, commitment, and life experience.

Personality may be one of the first things to consider when entering a mentorship. If you are both Type A personalities, the match may not last very long. Jungian personality traits are something to consider, as well.  Unlike the Type A/Type B personalities, depending on the reason for choosing a Jungian trait, personality concordance can be seen as beneficial.  For example, if you are an introvert, you may choose a mentor who is an extrovert in order to learn or affect these qualities and behaviors yourself. On the other hand this may make both parties frustrated and or uncomfortable with being polar opposites.

After considering your ideal personality match, seeking compatible values is of the utmost importance.  If your values don’t mesh, the mentorship is destined for disaster. A good idea is to make an honest assessment of your values and your potential mentor to do the same.  The exercise shouldn’t take more than five minutes.  Are you someone who puts family before anything else and your potential mentor is more concerned about success in the world? Does your mentor put faith above all else and you are more career oriented? That isn’t to say that either of these are poor matches.  However, be mindful of your values and your intended mentor’s values.  The more they match, the more successful the relationship is likely to be, but you may choose someone whose values differ somewhat from your own in hopes of adopting some of those values yourself. Just be willing to accept that your chosen mentor may not be able to work with someone whose values are vastly different from their own.

Defining expectations is also crucial to the mentor selection process. What is it exactly you are hoping to gain from your mentor? What are you able to give to your mentor? By giving, I don’t mean gifts or favors. I mean how can you reciprocate enrichment to the relationship? Discuss these with your mentor candidate before entering into an arrangement.

Like any relationship boundaries are vital to maintaining a healthy relationship. You should both agree on healthy boundaries that both foster your nascent relationship, yet maintain an appropriate level of distance and privacy. Your mentor is not your BFF, your bowling buddy, your shoe shopping bestie, etc. That isn’t to say you can’t do fun or social things together. And remember that your mentor is not your therapist. You can share personal things that are within the boundaries you have agreed to, but your mentor is likely not a counselor and not equipped to give you some types of advice or guidance and may refer you to a professional. Just be aware of the boundaries to which you agree, try not to overstep them, speak up if you feel your boundaries have been crossed, and be receptive to criticism if your mentor feels their boundaries have been crossed.  The key here is active communication.

Everyone is motivated by something. There has never been a person in history who has done “something for nothing.”  Not one. If someone does something for the love of God, then they are doing it to receive God’s love. If someone does something just because they “should”, then they are doing to serve their own moral compass. What are your motivations for seeking a mentor? Write them down. What are your mentor’s motivations for seeking someone to mentor? Do you both feel those motivations are appropriate? Don’t be afraid to question this from both yourself and your prospect.

Commitment is something most people complain about in many of their relationships whether family, social, professional, educational, etc. How invested are you in a mentoring relationship? Do you expect to sit back and “be taught” and have your mentor chase you around to see how you are doing, always be the one to initiate contact, or be adept at clairvoyance in order to give you whatever it is you think you need? How often would you like to engage with your mentor? Once a month? Twice a month? Once a week? Everyday? How much time do you need from your mentor at each meeting, whether by phone, electronic communication of some kind, or face time (not FaceTime)? Is your mentor available and willing to commit to your desired level of engagement?

Finally, consider the life experience your mentor brings to the table. Just because a person is young, or even younger than you, doesn’t mean they don’t have the life experience to be your mentor. For some people, both those offering and those seeking mentorship, this may be awkward. Ask yourself if you are comfortable with this and ask your postulant mentor if they are amenable to the match as well. Your own life experiences may be something you can offer to the relationship also, so keep that in mind.

A mentoring relationship is a two-way street.  It isn’t about what can a mentor do for me. It IS about what can you do for each other. Think about what you can offer to the relationship. Your mentor may not desire or expect anything from the relationship other than the feeling they get from helping someone. But be aware that you may, and should, have something to contribute when appropriate.

The very last thing to keep in mind: The person you most desire for a mentor may decline. This may or may not be a reflection on you. It may be that they are not able to commit themselves at this stage in their life to being a mentor. They may already be mentoring others and do not have the bandwidth to take on another person to mentor. Don’t take it personally.  I can’t say whether should ask for feedback about their decision if they choose to pass on the opportunity.  You will have to gauge this for yourself.  They may choose to not give a reason. Be accepting of that.



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