Mentorship 101 Part 1 – What Every Mentee Needs to Know

I will dare to make the claim that mentorship is the single most important thing in any human being’s life and hopefully I can shed some light on this assertion.  I must add a disclaimer that these are simply my opinions and observations on the matter but I’d love to hear thoughts from others.

Mentors.  We all have them and we all serve as them but very few of us really examine this in our lives.  Starting from birth, our parent(s) are invaluable mentors who shape our beliefs and environment but soon after we begin to form relationships with others.  Not long after that, the television and social media begin to influence us in ways we don’t even realize.  I always love and can attest to the statement “you show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”  Or even better, “you show me your friends and I will show you your future.”  This is so true but unfortunately too many people only realize this when it is too late.  I am not sure who coined the quote but I also find much truth in something I recently heard from Montell Jordan’s sermon; “If you want to know what lies down the road ahead, ask somebody who is on the way back.”

These are numbers 1-5 of  my personal suggestions on steps for mentees trying to develop a good mentor-mentee relationship.  I will post numbers 6-10 next week.

1.  SET YOUR GOALS: Understand what you are chasing in life.  This will set your standards and will be what determines whether you have succeeded or not.  Take a holistic approach at setting both short-term and long-term goals.  Some people are so fixated on their academics and career goals that they are still single late in life and regret passing up on Mr. or Miss Right.  Others become “too busy” for worship or their health.  It is important not to neglect certain areas in your life or you will never feel complete.  Realize that you must prioritize well but also multitask in order to be the one smiling at the end of the day.  Areas you may want to consider setting goals for are spiritual beliefs/faith, academics/career, spouse/family, finances, health, long-term friendships/networks.  It is important to understand how these areas intertwine as well.  Remember, you must allow “wise” people to counsel you while setting these goals but do not let anyone make these decisions for you.  Otherwise, you will be living someone else’s dream at your own expense.  You won’t find happiness there, I guarantee.  This is why I say set YOUR own goals, not goals for others.

2.  EXAMINE WHO IS MENTORING YOU NOW: Again, we all have mentors whether we realize it or not.  Furthermore, most of their influence is subliminal.  It is important that you quickly analyze who serves in these roles, remove and replace those areas where there are deficits before further harm is done.  Those who understand this principal will make something out of themselves while those who don’t will put themselves at a serious disadvantage.  Many of your friends should have similar goals.  It’s rare to find that chameleon in the group who can consistently party hardcore with the group and get involved in potentially harmful activities and still turn out successful at the end of the day.  Life doesn’t typically work that way.  Television and social media dominate our lives these days and it is a pet peeve of mine listening to people stating it does not influence today’s generation.  It saddens me to see that the once good (at least in my opinion) role models are being shunned and unapologetically replaced.  All of us 80’s babies remember shows like the Cosby’s, a Different World, Good Times, Family Matters, Full House, etc..  What happened to the two-parent, hardworking but still not perfect family?  It appears they were substituted for reality TV shows.  It used to be cool to want to be a doctor, police officer, lawyer, or hard working blue collared professional supporting your family but now-a-day people like Bill Cosby get stoned for speaking their mind in some arenas.  I was raised and influenced by mainstream hip hop myself but I won’t even get started on this topic.  I would only say that if someone tells you to buy a certain brand of clothing, do a particular dance, want to be like them, or treat others in a certain way (for good or bad) and you follow suit then they are most likely to some degree a mentor in your life.  It will be nice when there is again support for those actively trying to make positive changes in communities and it is okay to critique those who encourage negative actions.  I digress, but recommend you truthfully examine yourself and your surroundings.  Otherwise, you will be doing yourself a huge disservice.

3.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Research what it will take to reach your goals and have an idea of the mentor’s background.  Do not approach a mentor with an empty slate.  Come prepared.  Show them you have set goals and how you intend on reaching them but do not be inflexible in your plans.  Allow your mentors to point out how feasible things are and possibly alternative strategies.  If you want to become a medical doctor it’s good to have knowledge of the basics.  This doesn’t mean you should present your mentor with a master’s thesis on the world of medicine but have the understanding that med school is 4 years, residency is another 3+ years and then you may consider fellowship.  Be able to tell them your motive behind this career choice and be ready for their critique even if it is not what you want to hear.  A mentor will typically want to know what you expect from them.  Think this through before approaching them.

4.  SELECT WISELY: Find mentors who you can relate to but they don’t have to be exactly like you.  In fact, it is good to be diversified.  You may have to step out of your comfort zone a bit, but this is good.  Have older mentors who can tell you what will come later down the road and get you connected.  Have slightly older/matured mentors who recently experienced what you have and let you know it will all be okay.  Have peer mentors, who share your same experiences.  Do not neglect utilizing younger or even sometimes less experienced people as mentors since they may allow you to learn from their choices and innocence.  Simply watching a 2-year-old offers something to learn (such as contentment with simple things).  There is no golden mentor because we all have our short comings.  You will be terribly disappointed if you make an idol of a person.  Each mentor will have attributes to add to the person you want to become and limiting yourself to a particular type of person may keep you in a bubble.  Try to avoid pompous mentors as they may always make you feel as though you are beneath them.  I recall one of my mentors early on forcing me to stop calling him sir because he was afraid this would fill his head up and limit my growth.  I definitely see where he was coming from although each relationship should be handled differently.  I have great respect for him still but I am better able to regard him as a colleague and friend.  Use your discernment to see what motives your mentor.  Are they someone who will mentor you due to their passion for helping others or is there a financial or other self-fulfilling aim that is driving them?

5.  RESPECT: Your mentor likely has a full plate just as you do.  Most students and medical professionals are also dedicating a lot of their time to work and family.  Be respectful of their time.  Again this is why it is good to come to the table prepared with specific questions and updates.  Don’t be too intrusive into their personal life.  They will reveal information to you as they wish.  I would avoid asking specifically about their GPA, exam scores, salaries, or personal family matters.  Also, avoid sharing too many details about your conversation with too many others.  It is a small world and word can travel fast in the medical community.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard conversations med students discussed among one another shared with faculty and vice versa.  Another subcategory worth mentioning is being truthful and forthcoming if you want to maximize the benefits.  It may be embarrassing sharing some grades and scores but if you feel like it is worth mentioning to explain your situation then do not withhold or fabricate this important information.  This will will serve neither party any good in the end.

Okay, so I hope you understand my thought process so far and the importance of these aspects to develop a good mentor-mentee relationship.  Check back next week for numbers 6-10.

Published in General Pre-Medical, PreMed StAR