MBA Europe

Are You Better Off Without a Mentor?

Written by Morgan Witkin | MBA Europe | Wednesday 23rd December 2009 00:00:00 GMT

Just wandering through your career can be exhilarating

To mentor or not to mentor?

To mentor or not to mentor?

Before any term begins, I study the course lists and immediately create expectations of the upcoming classes. I put them into categories - my own groupings - nothing too calculated, actually a bit banal if I’m honest.

For example, this semester we have taken on six courses. I have divided them into “interesting,” “piece of cake,” “impossible,” “wtf?,” “there goes my weekends,” and “finally.”

Generally my expectations are accurate and I’m well prepared for what’s to come when classes begin. This semester, on the other hand, though threw me a curve ball. I found myself, just this morning, in “Management Information Systems” learning about EMS systems and database normalization. Believe it or not, I was genuinely engaged.

On the other hand, my class in the “finally” category has rapidly moved into the “wtf” category and I have made the executive decision to sit in the back of the room and catch up on readings while tuning in and out of the mind numbing lectures. This substantial modification in my assessments has nothing to do with the course material - it is purely professor related.

I have found that a subject can be totally transformed simply by the aptitude of the faculty. Which made me think - in terms of our careers and where we end up - that sometimes it’s not totally dependent on our strengths or our passions - but the people that come into our lives and show us something that may steer us in one direction or another. I’ve encountered very few of these people thus far.

I never had a mentor. I had always hoped, sort of waiting with metaphorically open arms, for someone - a professor, manager, elder - to see a distinct potential in me, take me under their wing, and create a protégé.

Unfortunately, this never happened.

I never came across a mentor - and if I did - either they didn't recognize my potential or I was too daft to solicit theirs. Either way, I started wondering today if I would be where I am now had this happened. Probably not. And possibly, I never came across “my” mentor because the paths I took weren’t necessarily the paths I was meant to be taking. There are hundreds of reasons that could be why I never found a guiding hand to direct me towards the light I still haven’t found.

I’m not lamenting though, don't get me wrong. I confess it would have been nice to have a guide at certain points of bleakness, but I have found that lacking direction is - in itself - direction. And from that - I’ve worked in a number of fields, discovered more about various industries and lived in more countries and on more continents that I ever could have envisaged. Ultimately, I found myself at one of the top MBA programs in the world.

Not too shabby for a mentor-less vagrant, is it?

Of course, I have had a great deal of respect for a number of people I have known - but no one lit a fire inside of me. No one has ever had the effect on me where I look at them and think to myself- “I would like to do what they are doing” or “I would like to be like them one day.”

When I was little, I wanted to be either Barbie or a famous singer (famous being the operative word). Considering the flammability of Barbie - that prospect went out the window. Plus, when I cut off all her hair and it never grew back, I figured that the human race was a far better option.

A clear indication that I would never make it as a singer presented itself when my sister and I orchestrated recitals during family gatherings and I was always gently reminded to, “let Tyler sing and you can dance.” Meanwhile, Tyler actually did grow up to be a Berkeley graduated melodiously gifted talented songstress. Such is life.

In my early adolescence, I decided that I would be an astronaut. I thought that the earth was unbelievably limiting, almost confining, so I assumed that the moon was my best bet.

Shortly after, I learned that being an astronaut didn't entail only courage and intellect - but I would have to have perfect eyesight. Being that I left the womb a bit lacking in the vision department, that one went out the window too.

After coming to terms with the fact that I would be stuck on earth for the remainder of my years - I was determined to use that time wisely and actually contribute something to the planet. Because of my love for animals (and subsequently my vegetarianism), I decided that I would study veterinary medicine.

I actually started interning at a vets office. All was going well until I came across a gravely ill puppy and I realized that no matter what I could have said to him, I could never communicate with animals - I would never be able to take away their pain - only ease or delay it. The “saving aspect” was excellent - but it was all the lost causes - all the death - that would have broken me in the end.

From there, I stopped searching and just let my professional life take its course. I worked in retail, I was a hostess at a restaurant in college until I got into a fight with the chef and got fired, I was a dance instructor and a lifeguard as a counsellor at my old summer camp. I was an Italian translator for a centuries-old secret society, I saved sea turtles in Costa Rica, I was an English teacher, I worked in advertising, marketing, media, journalism - I was an executive assistant to a celebrity, I sold ad space in trade publications, I re-branded my family’s fourth generation business - you name it, I probably tried it.

I may not have loved every job I have ever held but I love where I am now - and none of this would be possible without all of that.

I often wonder that if I had met someone along the way - someone so inspiring that I changed course, or stayed on one particular path - where I would be now. What part of the world, in what position, making what kind of money, with whom?

Would I be happy? That, I will never know.

What I do know is that never having come across my mentor - I’ve carved out my own trail… I’m still ploughing through the unknown everyday in hopes of reaching my destination. I’m not there yet but I’m continuously getting closer - and for now, this is enough for me.

Therefore, as a means of making me feel better - but with more truth than there is mere consolation - I’d like to say that a lack of direction is sometimes better than a clear course, complete with crosswalks and traffic lights.

Because who really wants to encounter a stop sign on the way to the top?

In the end, all of the wandering that we human beings can find ourselves engaged in can often lead to the most exhilarating of destinations.

Comments

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Monday 28th December 2009, 09.46 (UTC)

totally agree - mentors are a dubious blessing - i spend more time managing my mentors than managing my work


Saturday 2nd January 2010, 00.01 (UTC)

Morgan,

Thanks for writing this article. I think a lot of us can relate to what you said. Because I've always been a wanderer myself, I wished I had a mentor to keep me on track. I wanted to be like people who had found their passion early on in life and stuck to it long enough to become very good at it.

I often find myself struggling to explain the numerous and vastly diverse paths I've taken when writing business school application essays. From what I understand, admissions committees want to see some sort of clear direction of where you're heading or what you've achieved.

But you're right, there is a certain joy and wonder in exploration and the diverse experiences enriches you in ways that you probably won't experience if your mind is narrowed to just one path.

Melissa


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