Armed with great ideas, energy and excitement, fresh entrants into a professional field come ready to conquer the world. They find jargon, red tape and sometimes cynical older professionals who now tick time in and out without much creativity. Left on their own, these youngsters will soon join the rat race and wither away seeking greener pastures and new excitement. Unless of course, a mentor steps in.
Often, finding a willing mentor is no mean task. Professional organisations attempt to put in place mentorship through internships and other learning spaces for students. Some associations like PRSK offer reduced fees for students to access events and seek out the professionals that can mentor them.
In The Lord of the Rings, a novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, Gandalf is the leader and mentor of the Fellowship of the Ring. Despite his great power, he prefers to work by encouraging and persuading. He possesses great knowledge and travels continually, always focused on the mission to counter his enemy, the Dark Lord Sauron. His is Narya, the Ring of Fire, and he both delights in fireworks to entertain as well as a weapon.
Through him, the roles of mentor are visible. The first is that mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The “mentor”- an experienced individual shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person, or “mentee.”
Secondly, mentors are trusted advisers and role models. They have “been there” and “done that.” They support and encourage their mentees to improve their skills and advance their careers. A mentor offers grounded encouragement necessary to push through the mental roadblocks of the mentee and set them back on the path to success.
Third, mentoring is a partnership based on mutual trust and respect. It offers personal and professional advantages for both parties. A mentor or a guardian prepares the mentee for the mental, physical, or emotional challenges they will face in their journey to overcome an inner conflict and achieve their life goal. This includes the building of social capital.
Indeed, it is the role of the mentor to help the mentee settle, calm down and focus on their goal even when they feel like a fish out of water, in desperate need of some support or in learning a physical skill or a new body of knowledge. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations.
Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Being a mentor is an active commitment to one of the most impactful things in the life of a young person: a relationship.
Mentorship was inspired in Greek mythology by the character of Mentes in Homer‘s Odyssey who advises a young man Telemachus, in his time of difficulty. Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope is advised by king of the Taphians, to go out in search of his father. Odysseus left home for the Trojan War nearly two decades back. The son finds his father and they together eject the suitors who had crowded the house seeking the hand of Penelope in marriage. He thus restores his parents’ marriage.
When young people have an advisor they can trust, they gain more confidence and are more daring in trying out new things. Indeed, according to Mentor Washington, more than half of youth (52%) who are mentored are likely to stay in school compared to their peers. They also experience fewer symptoms of depression and 46% of them are less likely to use illicit drugs.
Mentoring relationships are opportunities for learning and growth both ways. It is also time for creating and having fun, learning more about each other, improving self-esteem and enhancing social relationships.
A good mentor takes time to get to know their mentee, their likes and dislikes. They engage active listening skills, show empathy and flexibility so that they can meet the needs of those under their charge. A mentor chooses whether they want to help a youth learn a specific skill, pursue an interest, help with schoolwork or just be a caring adult friend.
This creates value such as feeling valued, improved self-esteem and feeling they are making a difference. Both especially if it is cross cultural or has some other difference gain a better understanding of other cultures and develop a greater appreciation for diversity. This in turn generates more productivity and a better attitude at work.
The biblical Paul had Timothy as a mentee and half the New Testament is produced by Paul. He lived his word and was brave enough to say ‘Imitate me as I imitate Christ’. In his words were authenticity and honesty that could only have yielded trust from Timothy. Who are todays Pauls, Mentes and Gandalfs? And are the mentees available?