By Ryan Li
As your career progresses, it is common that you will have different answers if asked the same question, depending on where you are at in your career. This is because you have progressed mentally and physically, and your experience and knowledge have opened your eyes and enriched the way you look at the world.
Sharing what I have learnt from my experience throughout my life – some knowledge that is not instantly available in textbooks, something that would have benefited me if I had known it at younger stage: sharing this wisdom is a way to help others answer their own questions, resolve their concerns, grow and shape their personality – This is what you future mentor is thinking about now.
What is a mentorship?
Have you considered finding a mentor in your career? Or, do you have a sense of what a mentor or mentorship is?
If we look to the origins of education, back to when there were no schools, universities, or institutions, ‘students’ would generally seek guidance from their elders who would be their ‘teachers’. It was not as formal as the lectures nowadays. In addition, professional knowledge was not the only subject being taught – students were also taught about spirituality, mentality, and philosophy from their ‘teachers’. From a modern perspective, this was the nature and origin for both today’s education system, and mentorship.
What is a mentor?
While you’re at university, lecturers and tutors are often the source of truth or answers to your questions. Closer to graduation, the UTS Careers office may be the place you want to visit for more professional career consultation and coaching. Then later on, in your workplace, your manager may be the one from whom you would seek suggestions.
These people are valuable to your professional development, as they can pass on what they have gained from previous experience and knowledge to act as living textbooks to keep you on the right track. However, there are also other people who you can learn something from – that’s right, a mentor.
What does a mentor do?
Unlike your lecturers or tutors, a mentor does not have to be excellent in your professional area, but be someone who can provide you with guidance when you encounter difficulties from an angle that you might not have thought of – an angle that would let you rethink the situation more thoughtfully.
More often than not, we tend to focus too much on a particular aspect of an issue and forget to step back to view the difficulty from outside your profession. In reality, a great proportion of problems require not only professionalism or Intelligence Quotient (IQ), but also Emotional Quotient (EQ). Sometime the latter plays even more important role. Yet, a mentor is one of the few and best sources to help you develop your EQ. Mentors may not have a perfect EQ, but what they have – rich life experience as well as a perspective developed from it – can give you a thorough idea of how you can deal with a difficulty thoughtfully and comprehensively.
Unlike career consultants, a mentor is someone who knows you in both your professional and daily life – someone who you could also have a long-term friendship with. Sometimes, it can be too intimate to let a career consultant know your personal life, but your career consists of a balance between your professionalism and personality development. As a mentor is also a friend, you have a two-way relationship, with more informal communication and exploration, which inspires such development. As they can understand your situation and your career path, your mentor should be able to guide you in a way that is truly beneficial and suitable for you.
Unlike your manager, a mentor is a source of wisdom that can help provide enlightenment when you are confused or directionless at intersections in your development. Instead of giving instructions or telling you what to do to finish the job, a mentor would help you work through your decision-making process. You are not told what to do, but to think about what to do and how to do. This stimulation can help you develop and advance, in a way that is inherently driven by you, which is far more than what traditional leadership could do.
Mentorship is not one-off relationship
In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker had two mentors during his life: Obi-Wan Kenobi in his teenage years, and Jedi Master Yoda later teaching him the ways of becoming a Jedi.
Throughout your career, you will go through various stages with different areas that need mentoring. A mentor cannot be a perfect person who can guide you through your life in every single aspect. This is why you will need different mentors at different stages in your development, and sometimes you may need more than one mentor at the same stage.
Mentorship is a mutually beneficial relationship
It is both a wise and bold action to ask someone to be your mentor – having a mentor will be one of the wisest decisions you have ever made. Meanwhile, it is also a challenge as you can never know exactly what this mentorship is going to look like. However, mentees generally learn a lot from a mentorship that they may not be able to learn from other sources – something that likely would save your time.
There are numerous resources online for you to read in terms of mentorship, including how to find a good mentor, what expectation you should set for a mentorship, and how to maintain a mentorship etc. I would really suggest you to have a look before finding a mentor.
On the other hand, it is also important to recognise the bravery of being a mentor – the time commitment, resources and sense of responsibility are just one part of what a mentorship promise could mean. However, this does not mean we should not look for a mentor because it would be ‘bothering’ someone. Adversely, we need to ask someone to be our mentor, because this is a way to show that we value their personality and ability, and also a way for them to re-evaluate themselves before accepting to be our mentors.
Ryan Li is an experienced system coordinator with IT background sitting within UTS:Careers to work with faculties and units across UTS to enable system related requirements to be interpreted for technical solutions to meet the end user’s expectation.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash