If someone asked me to be their mentor, five years ago, I would say no.
Today, the word mentor comes with a lot of baggage. How do I know? Because in my 20s I created many unrealistic expectations for mentors.
I know because when I was in my teens and in college, I was disappointed in the relationship I had with my father. I felt he wasn’t the spiritual person I hoped or wanted him to be. This disappointment pushed me to idolize my pastor, who eventually let me down as my spiritual role model. The disappointment piggy-backed with me to college, where I idolized the leaders above me and made them more than human. Eventually, it translated into my work environment where I idolized my boss until he, you guessed it, disappointed me.
As you might guess, I experienced quite a bit of disappointment.
It took me a few years to come to my senses and realize it was not just or fair of me to be angry with those who let me down.
Much of my disappointment was due to my unspoken and unrealistic expectations of mentors.
I bet some mentors did not even know that in my mind I elevated their status to mentors.
As a leader who has mentored over 130 twenty-somethings in my career, I’ve developed some insights into how to have a healthy mentee/mentor relationship. Most of it has to do with expectations and healthy boundaries on the part of you, the mentee:
1. Do not try to make a mentor into a friend.
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked with approximately 130 college-aged students. I can count on one hand how many of those have become friends. It is not because I have severe and stringent boundaries. Simply, I do not share enough in common with those 130 people to grow into a close relationship where we share and do life. Five. That is it.
2. Do not try to make a mentor into a parent.
Much like point #1, do not create an unspoken expectation for someone to be the parent you never or simply wished you had. I realize your heart aches for a relationship like this, but an attempt to force someone into this role is only going to make that ache in the heart grow. Instead, be up front when you approach someone in your spiritual community or sphere and say, “Hey, I could really use a parent’s advice. For whatever reason, I do not feel confident with my own parent(s) and could use some advice in area X Y or Z.” Taking this approach will greatly help you get further down the road.
3. Do seek out mentors for a specific topic.
As an entrepreneur, I appreciate the opportunity to pick the brains of seasoned entrepreneurs who have been at their craft for a number of years. After a few years, I ran into a gentleman who has successfully run his own business for over two decades. I asked him if I could meet him for coffee to discuss a venture I was pursuing. The 30 minutes I had with him helped give me clarity and focus. We meet up periodically and I buy his coffee. It works out great.
4. Do have realistic expectations.
A mentor relationship has the ability to grow into something more. A mentor might invite you to go fishing, attend a conference, or some other activity. Soak up these opportunities. Enjoy the moment while the moment lasts. Glean everything you can during these experiences. If the relationship grows deeper, fantastic, but if it does not, don’t sweat the little the things. Appreciate the time you had with this person. Just keep your expectations at the proper level so that you do not ask your mentor to be someone they cannot humanly be.
People want to mentor those in their 20s, but mentors need to know there are only realistic expectations on the part of you, the mentee.
I still help mentor those who ask for help. But now I temper expectations on my part, too. I communicate I have a limited amount of time and create healthy boundaries. I offer people the opportunity to meet me at my favorite coffee shop. There, they might share with me their personal and professional struggles. I would meet for about an hour. Then, I tell them if they want to meet again simply email me and set up a time next month. If they have a question come up, they are free to email me, but give me a couple of days to get to their email.
Keep these 4 points in mind as you reach out to mentors in 2018.
Your mentors will appreciate it.