Friday, May 08, 2009

Friendships IV: Mentor and Mentee

Not everyone has one and not everyone needs one but mentors can be an important part of one’s adult life. Beside the very formal way of being assigned a mentor by your work place (to boost efficiency, show you the ropes, be able to whinge to in confidence blah blah blah) I think there is plenty of opportunity to find mentors in life. Not like a life coach (whose job descriptions I don’t fully understand although as a career it sounds intriguing), instead a person from your area of work to be more like a sounding board.

Mentors are not people who start out being your friends, but often, given time and opportunity they can also turn into friends. But this is not essential by any means. It is important to be very distinct in this relationship because while you can sob on a friends shoulder about anything under the sun including adult acne, burnt dinner, crap movie, the job of a mentor is more focused on helping you find a solution to a problem, guide your career, be a sounding board and generally share the wisdom of their experience with you for something a bit more serious than where to get takeaway from. I also think that it should flow in that way – Mentor to friend, not friend to mentor – and this is because as friends you have a much more informal relationship and becoming a mentor is possibly harder and could be taken less seriously and jeopardise the friendship. Whereas starting out as a mentor and turning into friend is a whole different ballgame – one where the mentor is connecting with you on a more formal level, for a more specific issue, without the easy banter of friendship, and therefore is more likely to have a serious view and opinions on your problem/ situation. This then can (but not always) form the solid platform for a friendship to rest on.

I found my mentor at work quite by accident. Neither was she looking for someone to mentor and nor was I looking for a mentor. It just so happened that when faced with a career indecision I made a foray into checking with this person and thereafter it became natural without any mention of it that I could go to her with problems/ situations. She never had solutions for me as such, just a correlation to her experiences and a laying out of possible options more clearly and succinctly that my muddled brain could manage. Eventually, we voiced the fact that we had a mentor-mentee relationship and this made things easier; her more approachable and willing to share a larger chunk of her contacts and expertise and me more able to think through things rather than just making hasty, ill informed decisions.

Once she left my organisation we’d meet up once in a while and talk about my career vs. personal life balance amongst other things and she always had something interesting or useful to add to the equation.

Eventually we went from being mentor and mentee to also being friends. She still gives me good advice when I seek it but we also just go out for the odd meal, cup of coffee and chat. In an environment where there is so much hustle and bustle and focus on career and life balance having a mentor and friend has been an invaluable help. To be able to talk to someone in confidence and not have your idea knocked down cold or to be able to weigh up different options clearly and objectively or to be able to talk without judgment – these are the gifts that a mentor can give.

I know that not everyone needs one but with my change in career and city/ country it was amazingly useful to have this person on board. And over the years beside being a mentor she has also become my friend, age difference not withstanding. It is my opinion only that it is always better if you can find your own, approach them with the idea, be clear about what you want from the relationship rather than have one imposed on you because that becomes the first step in feeling forced to do something you don’t really want to.

What can I say? I got lucky.

1 comment:

  1. I can completely relate to this. I have a friend to whom I give advices and she always turns to me whenever she needs someone to give her an unbiased opinion. We do not have a mentor-mentee relationship. It didnt even start like that. But yes, at certain times, its like that..
    Though I feel the need of having someone with whom I can have such relationship..