Friday, June 18, 2010

There is No "Me" in "Mentor". No, Wait...

Jamie Nacht Farrell is one of the (mostly) like-minded people that I have thankfully encountered in my social media forays of the last year. She has her own blog, which you can find here. If you like some of what I have said here at Too XYZ, I think you will find common ground with her writings as well. Do check it out, and tell her I sent you.

Most of my contact with her has taken place on Brazen Careerist, where many of her blog posts have been selected as features. Rightfully so. Recently she started a thread over there in which I have become involved in a very specific way. I'd like to share some of that, and expound upon same with you here.

Jamie started a thread thus;

"I strongly believe it is clear that what society is missing are STRONG MENTORS in the more experienced generation; as well as companies not realizing how important mentorship is and making it a priority. What are your thoughts here?"

My personal response to this was as follows;

"I never had one, and I have suffered because of it...And outside of work, mentors can also play a huge role in shaping one's life. I didn't have any outside of work either, and believe me, it made everything harder."

As depressing as it is true. Jamie responded to my statement with this;

I happen to think you're one of the coolest people on this site (not joking) because you believe in what you say; you say what you believe; and you don't give a shit what other people think.

I was (and am sometimes) exactly like that and I still like people that are like me. That said, the first thing I was told by my first mentor (I was lucky - I was only 22 at the time) was, "You're brilliant and you're ambitious. But you're so opinionated and you've got a big F-ing mouth. If you can shut your mouth and learn to be open minded, I'll turn you into one of the biggest success stories in our industry". Obviously, my first reaction was to say "F U", but you didn't say that to this I said "ok" and I tried to (what I call) "be more corporate". I hated it and I still do ( ; but that said, he was right. I learned to hone down my 'mouth' and while I still had opinions, learned to present them differently, at the right times, etc... if you truly want to find 'the best' to mentor you, you've got to 'take a step back' and reassess the reasons why you don't have a mentor.

Believe me, I have spent a great deal of time assessing that very thing. And while Jamie made some legitimate overall points, I am not sure all of them apply to me directly. Online I am sure I appear that certain way, and in fact what I do online is truthful. But it is only one aspect of myself. 

There is also the taciturn type. The leader by example, (when applicable.) The soft speaker that carries a big stick, and such. I am that guy as well, and as I told Jamie later in the post, I have been overlooked, or judged "unworthy of time and effort" just as often for keeping quiet over the years, as I have been for offering opinions and criticism. It has been a sort of lose/lose for me in the mentor department. And while any given moment Jamie's observations could apply to me, the breadth, consistency, and duration of my "Mentor Repellent" history makes me believe there is something more to it than that.

And what is that? I haven't even the slightest clue. But I write about it here, because Too XYZ is not just about advice or observations. Sometimes it is about the unanswered questions in my life. The unsolvable riddles that would seem to keep me out of or away from what many folks find so easy to jump right into. That's where the whole Too XYZ motif comes from, after all. 

So then, am I just Too XYZ for mentors? Is there something about me that makes me untrainable? Is there really no room under anybody's wing for me? My whole history would sometimes appear to suggest so. And while I admit I have not gone around asking, "Could you mentor me," to every interesting person I have encountered, I have to conclude that just as many people with mentors have refrained from this approach as have adopted it.

But back to me.

Middle school teachers spent far more time polishing the "raw" talent of the more obnoxious children, (after telling them they had a detention.) High school teachers, when they said anything at all, would actually say things to me like, "what you need is a really strong guiding force for that wonderful intellect of yours. You need to be an apprentice to a great master who cares."

But of course they didn't do so themselves. Probably because a lot of them were threatened by all of the questions I asked that they felt inadequate to answer. More than one source has since agreed with that possibility.

College was the same. I never had a friendly relationship with any of my professors. Not that I fought with them either, (except in one case) but I always marveled at how some students would end up going out to dinner with their professors or advisors, or sitting with them at the bars, or get phone calls from them "just to check up", when half the time I couldn't even get a professor to return a voice mail.

But it isn't just the academic world. There is theatre. I am often looked to, but nobody really has a whole lot of advice for me, other than "you're doing it wrong." (Which isn't advice at all.) Same with my writing endeavors.

And the social emptiness of having everyone who could have played some kind of role in my development as a child and young adult vanish into thin air the moment my father died, (I was 7) never really to be heard from again. As though stepping up and offering guidance to a fatherless child could somehow contaminate their own life expectancy. Whatever the reasons, the possible "social mentors" even with my own family, (all of my aunts and uncles, certainly my one and only brother, and a few adult sisters) took a hands off approach to me, and for the most part still do. Anything from the changing of tires to the baiting of a fishing hook lie not within my realm of knowledge until, in some way, I taught myself, usually well into adulthood. (Mentoring, of a kind also covers those type of things, you know.)

I was even in the Big Brothers program for a few years as a pre-teen. My mother thought it may fill the place that my actual brother had abdicated. My "big brother" was a nice guy, but no mentor, as he would often remind me there was "little point" in laughing too loudly outside, while spending most of our sessions watching movies at his apartment, or going to McDonald's. I already knew how to do those things.

I think you get the picture. I have been so many places, and told I have so much promise and potential, and as a result have had many ideas that I think were great, but I lacked the network and/or mentors to help smooth out the edges. To help me focus my obvious talents and ambition. 

And as I result, I did, (and in some cases still do) flounder in the creek with no paddles. So much potential wasted because so few ever took a constructive interest in me.

In the last years I have begun to carve the path for myself, and have succeeded in various ways. But just as I think I would have benefited greatly from a mentor years ago in my so call "formative years", I believe that now I could make great use of the right one moving forward on my new course of the last four years or so.

But the silence in response is the same as ever. It is part of the reason I am a freelancer, (and hoping to become one full time in the future.) But I know it will take me longer than most, because I will be doing it all once again without any advice or personal guidance from anyone. .

Or will I?

Later in that same thread Jamie explored the idea that "mentoring" is sometimes poorly served by the image the word conjures up. I paraphrase here, but she mentioned that it often makes one think of an older, wiser, more successful father figure, who graces one with the pointing of his finger, and bestows upon same all of the secret knowledge that led to their own success. She goes on to say that these days, mentors can be any age, be struggling themselves in some ways, and don't have to be as mystical as we have traditionally made them to be. One can even be "mentored" by various different people. That social media, meet-ups, Twitter, and whatever can lead us to a sort of "team" of mentors, who can help us as we need it, instead of bringing us up in their own image.

I can buy that, and perhaps I  have made some use of this more loosely defined and fluid mentorship. As I try to expand my business in the coming years, I hope to gain something from all of that expertise floating around out there in cyberspace. (With the proviso that their advice is tailored to me, based on trying to understand my needs as opposed to just issuing that canned advice to everyone.)

Yet I admit that in the past I would have, (and perhaps even now might still) found great satisfaction and direction from the traditional mentor set up, at least for a while. If someone successful in the ways I want to be successful would deem me personally worthy of tutelage, and beckon me with that finger just once, to guide me to greatness, (so that I wouldn't always have to be carving every single path all by myself), I think some void would be filled within me.

However, until then, the digging with the single shovel goes on. And I won't let whatever everyone's problem is with mentoring me derail me in the future as much as it did in the past.

I'm Too XYZ to let that happen.



JHepCat "72" said...

Hey Ty, I hear you, and happy to offer what advice I may have. I sometimes feel I'm better at helping others than myself.

Probably why the first post ever on The Pragmatic Alternative is entitled, "Taking My Own Advice."

It's actually pretty good. Getting back to that these days.

"I think I'm going back / To the days when I was young enough /To know the truth..."

Anyway, keep connecting on Brazen. I know Jamie a little, too, and I've met a few very solid and caring people with experience and insights beyond their years in many cases, or just more than mine and others' because we didn't plow those fields in our youth, or any time really.

I'm looking to be better at the business of business myself. Now know enough to know that financial statements: cash flow, profits and losses, uh, there's one more . . . are a reasonable thing to ask for a look at when considering any business's health.

Happy to provide support any way I can, Ty.

Ty Unglebower said...

Thanks, Jay. I appreciate it.