This is not something I’m particularly proud of, but I’ve always had a bit of a problem with mentors.
Not that I think I know everything, or that I wouldn’t welcome help with my career, but the idea of finding and hooking up with my own personal business-world Yoda always seemed a little forced to me, like those ridiculous tie-things women were supposed to wear in the Eighties.
However, now I think I’ve found a way to wrap my head around it all. I’ve decided that mentor-mentee relationships are basically a way to structure a de-regulated patronage system.
Back in the days of Renaissance Europe or Feudal Japan, patronage made the world go round. It was how you started and maintained a career, built buildings, conducted trade, painted paintings, and, in a nutshell, survived.
The steps of the patronage dance were complicated and rules were strictly enforced. Supplicants sent letters, requested audiences, awaited responses, kept an eye on the competition and gave gifts of velvet and game or years of labor. Those in power bestowed “favors” to advance their own political, economic and social ambitions, while building their prestige. It was a constrained and controlled world, with a very clear set of regulations. You never turned your back on the sovereign and watched yourself around those “above your station,” but these manners were widely known and understood.
Ahhh, don’t the good old days sound grand? At least then you knew whose ring to kiss.
Although our world is more democratic now, and access to the goods and resources we need to make our way is more widely accessible, it’s also a lot more confusing.
Maybe that’s because hierarchies remain and human nature hasn’t changed much. Some people have power and wealth, and some don’t. Those striving to get ahead still need to make alliances with those in power, and the powerful still need up-and-comers to solidify their status.
But how is a more fluid society to organize such interactions?
That’s where mentors and mentees come in. These relationships, generally entered into freely, even when organizations encourage them, accomplish many of the same goals achieved by the patronage system of old. They educate the incoming, invigorate the established and help carry on the traditions of the organization.
For some reason I find it a lot easier to come to terms with the mentorship process when I consider it in the light of practices dating back to the Middle Ages.
Maybe I’m just a traditionalist at heart. How about you? Have you found mentoring or being mentored to be helpful? Do you wish you knew whose ring to kiss? Post a response and let’s start a discussion on the usefulness of this new/old tradition.
Editor’s Note: For another perspective on working with mentors, see Finding the Right Mentor.
by Danielle Dresden