Viewpoint: Be Your Own Mentor (?)

Somewhat by accident, the issue of mentorship, sponsorship, and counselling has become my viewpoint topic for this week’s blogging efforts. For, immediately after writing my blog post of yesterday, I discovered an article in Parade entitled “Who Says You Need a Mentor? Be Your Own“, and I thought this contentious issue could benefit from some investigation.

To recap yesterday’s post – mentorship, sponsorship, and counselling are valuable for young people just entering into their professional careers. Mentorship involves a senior member of an organization providing the youth with advice and guidance; sponsorship entails a committed, tangible contribution from the senior to the junior partner in the relationship; and lastly, counselling offers career guidance and advice for those struggling to find their way in this complex and changeable world. Unfortunately, luck has a big role to play in who does and who does not manage to find a mentor/sponsor/counselor.

Ilya Pozin points out in the aforementioned article, Who Says You Need a Mentor?, that mentors are very often hard to come by. Mentors are likely to be busy, and perhaps distant from junior colleagues, and without a formal mentorship program there may be no way to span this disparate organizational hierarchy (Pozin, October 1st, 2013). I saw examples of this first-hand while working with the Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Environment at my university; younger professors entering the faculty were often unfamiliar with everything from printing policies to the faculty’s academic culture, and mentors were few and far between. Consequently, some recommendations that Pozin gives to become your own mentor (see also this Lifehacker article and books such as this one):

  • Analyze your workplace surroundings
  • Honestly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Seek out inspiration, energy, and compassion on a daily basis
  • Reward yourself
  • Always ask questions
  • Strive for more and better personal development opportunities
  • Help others when possible – become a mentor to someone else!

So I also have to ask – if it’s hard for some people to get a mentor, how much harder is it to find a sponsor? I believe that a sponsor, i.e. someone with the seniority/influence/power to help you actually reach your goals, is the domain of only a few lucky people (Anderson, August 24, 2010). According to Anderson, it’s a chicken-before-egg situation; you have to prove yourself, be a mentor to yourself, before you can qualify as ‘worthy’ enough to deserve a senior sponsor (ibid). Something as simple as a personality conflict could therefore label you as ‘unworthy’ of help and support from upper levels of management, and just because you need or want a sponsor doesn’t mean you’ll get one.

Hence, I am left questioning whether or not sponsorship is a merit-based system, and if in fact there are other intervening factors in the success of any given junior partner – e.g. the junior partner in the sponsorship situation is an attractive, confident female working with an older, senior male partner (purportedly a common situation, see this article). Sponsorship is also hard to find in this age of one-year contract positions which keep young people rotating between companies.

Lastly, counselling is a valuable asset for young people and can be done independently, without assistance from formal sources (i.e. counselling centres). Young people can use the resources provided by family, friends, and teachers to get (admittedly biased) reflections on their direction in life. The internet, personal reflection, and journal/blogging entries can also assist in the independent person’s search for a career path.

For me, this blog has provided an invaluable source of support and therapy during a time of uncertainty and growth. If writing isn’t your forte, try drawing, photography, interpretive dance – anything to express yourself and give you time to reflect. Trust me when I say that it won’t be a wasted effort.

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