Break the mentor cycle

Mentors

I’ve read and heard it over and over in management books, on blogs, from those who profess to hold the keys to success – find a great mentor and follow him/her.

I say forget about mentors. You can do better.

In a strict sense, a mentor is a trusted adviser, a seasoned member of the group who can guide you through the perils of inexperience. But more often than not, it means much more. Modern culture has elevated the role of the mentor to that of a messiah; someone to look to for all of the answers, to solve all of your problems.

In your journey, choosing the right mentor is vital (or so we’re told). So we agonize and scrutinize until we find the perfect candidate. The one, the only one, who can lift us from the dark seas of mediocrity and pull us onto the shining shores of greatness.

The problem is, no matter how wonderful, wildly successful, or benevolent that person may be (and they may be), they are undoubtedly human, and therefore imperfect. When you expect a single person to hold the key to your success and happiness, you will inevitably be let down. Because in the end, they have just as many doubts, flaws, and blind spots as you. And so, crushed and defeated, you begin the search again. It becomes a vicious cycle of elevation and disappointment.

But let’s say for a minute that they do have all the answers. That they can give you a blow by blow guide to how they found success; impart every bit of knowledge they have and how they used it. That’s great. But they are not you. They are working with a different set of strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, values, and world view. You could very possibly studiously sit and listen to everything they have to say and still be a complete and utter failure.

But it’s not all bad news. The good news is: Just because people tell you that you need a mentor, doesn’t make it true. Rather than looking to someone else to take you by the hand and guide you through your life, you can do it yourself.

The skill that you need is not finding the right person, it’s finding the right qualities in every person around you that can help you learn and grow. And they are there for the taking, I promise. I have yet to meet someone whom I couldn’t learn something from, for better or worse. Whether it was learning how to better deal with people by overhearing the interactions of a skilled customer service representative or how to work around people who seemed to make it their life’s mission to be difficult.

The answers you are looking for are all around you and no one person is their keeper. In the words of Sheldon Kopp, “A grown-up can be no man’s disciple.” So keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t settle for walking in someone else’s shoes.

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