Stop Looking For Mentors

I don’t like the word mentor.

The word mentor (and its companions mentoring and mentorship) have too many misconceptions and pretense. They’re big, emotional, life-changing words. They leave would-be-mentees overthinking how to find a mentor and leave would-be-mentors overthinking both how to be a mentor and whether they could be one.

When you search for mentor on the popular search engine Google, images of Yoda and Gandalf show up. That’s super appropriate, because the romantic vision of a mentor is fiction. Some benevolent, all-knowing person is not going to pluck you from the crowd and be firm but fair guide in helping you reach the top of the mountain.

Instead of looking for a mentor, just find somebody who can answer some questions you have. Then, if you think they can answer some more, ask them again. In reality, a mentor is mostly just somebody that answers questions more than once. That’s it. It’s not cinematic.

For companies and programs trying to set up mentorship programs, try setting up a program that matches people who have questions with people that could answer them. That structure primes the would-be-mentees on how to engage and lets would-be-mentors focus on giving advice on a topic they know about. This will work much better than just pairing up people of different seniority for an awkward lunch. And who knows - if they answer questions for someone more than once, a mentoring relationship might form.

So stop worrying about mentors and mentorship and mentoring. Those words psyche people out. They set expectations that are counter to the normal time and mechanics it takes to build a relationship. They put unrealistic exptectations on how all-knowing mentors can be.

If you want a mentee - get good at something and make yourself available to answer questions about it. If you want a mentor - start by asking people questions, and over time you might find yourself with one.