We don’t throw around the word “mentor” very often—the mentor-mentee relationship just isn’t as popular a topic as our romantic, friendly, or familial dynamics. This is unfortunate, as healthy mentor-mentee relationships can enhance the wellbeing and groundedness of all involved.
So what is a mentor? A mentor can be anyone who has been where you’d like to be — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.—who inspires, guides, or acts as a sounding board for your growth. If you’re an entrepreneur, you might click with a mentor who runs their own business. If you’re an aspiring dancer, you may find a mentor in someone who has experience in the type of dance you want to pursue. Most of us have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and the concept of “sponsors” who support you on your journey to sobriety—they, too, are a type of mentor who can offer you advice and support.
If you’re interested in pursuing or enhancing a mentor-mentee relationship, check out the six concepts below, which we’ve found central to empowering both sides of the dynamic.
Know What Kind of “Street” You Need
By this, we mean: do you want disclosure to be a one-way or two-way street? In some relationships, mentors assist us by simply listening, allowing us to express our feelings and answering any questions we might bring to the table. This is a one-way interaction, as we’re focusing on our lives while a mentor accompanies and/or guides us. While there are many important differences between a mentor-mentee and a therapist-client relationship, there are similarities between them in that, like one-way street mentors, therapists generally listen to and support you without bringing their own baggage to the table.
Other mentors help by sharing their own personal stories, so that their mentees can evaluate their situations through the lens of their mentors’ experiences. Some of us find it normalizing and helpful to hear about times when our mentors faced similar challenges, or to learn about the consequences of mistakes they might have made. This type of mentorship might be useful when we’re seeking advice how to accomplish a certain goal, like applying for graduate school, or when we’re working with a sponsor in AA.
Say No Until You Want to Say Yes
Like any other social connection, it’s important to find a mentor who feels like a good fit. A person’s area of expertise, methods of communication, encouragement style, and more can all play a huge role in whether they’re the right mentor for you.
Finding a good mentor can take time, and it’s completely normal to invest time and energy into a relationship only to realize it’s not the one you’re looking for. Fortunately, the world is a large and diverse place, and you will eventually find the mentor (or mentors) who are right for you!
Know that a Mentor Can’t Provide Therapy
As we mentioned before, a mentor-mentee relationship is not the same as a therapist-client relationship. Your mentor can offer a wealth of wisdom and advice, but they won’t be able to offer you the psychological relief and support that you would go to a therapist for.
If you’re looking for someone to help you with a psychological conflict—a pattern of negative relationships, chronic feelings of low mood, difficulty engaging with others, etc—you might consider speaking with a therapist. If you have any questions about what it’s like to work with a therapist or which modality of therapy is ideal for you, feel free to email Viva’s clinicians at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the Mentor
Be Creative With Where You Meet
Meetings don’t need to take place at a desk. Try getting together somewhere that you and your mentee both feel like you can let your guard down. Going for a walk, grabbing coffee, or meeting at a museum are just a few casual ways to connect.You might also find activities related to your mentor-mentee relationship. For instance, if you’re someone’s business mentor, you can invite them to a local conference or to out lunch with a useful contact. If you’re assisting someone who just moved to your area, you can introduce them to a few of your favorite spots. So long as you are both comfortable with the place you go and the activity you participate in, there are infinite possibilities.
Maintain Reliable Communication
Not only does an established method of communication lessen confusion between yourself and your mentee, but studies have also shown increased self-esteem in mentees who received regular contact from their mentors.
Establish modes of contact that you both can work with: are texts okay, or do you want to stick to in-person meetings? Are you available to chat on weekends, or only on Mondays and Wednesdays? Similarly, let your mentee know if you’ll be going out of town or unable to respond to messages for any unexpected reason. This will help your mentee feel secure, and allow you to establish boundaries.
Some of the best advice that the Harvard Business Review gives about mentorship is that a mentor should offer an authentic experience. Your mentee has come to you for a reason: they want your unique perspective and advice. The things that set you apart from everyone else are the things that allow you to provide a mentee with valuable new ideas. Don’t feel like you need to be fake or dishonest with your mentee—that won’t help them in the long run.
There are infinite ways in which your mentor-mentee relationship may prove fruitful. As a mentee, you have the opportunity to learn from someone with valuable insight and experience, who can also comfort you and introduce you to opportunities you never knew existed. As a mentor, you can pay forward the lessons you’ve learned and feel the pride that comes with assisting others and watching their goals come into fruition.
Cheesy as it sounds, mentorship can expand your worldview and inspire you on your journey towards even greater accomplishments. We wish you the best of luck finding the right partner to take that journey with!
Ashley Whimpey hails from the mountains of Utah. A graduate of George Mason University with Honors in Communication and a double minor in psychology and consciousness studies, she loves knowledge. More importantly, her dog’s name is Kona, she drinks an incredible amount of coffee, and she’s a yogini.