The Millennial Mentee

Contributed By Kiersten Mitchell of

Ah, the millennial. We’ve grown up with a strong achievement orientation. Our helicopter parents ensured that we got the best education, practiced our instruments, and participated in team sports to hone key skills like collaboration. We took collaboration and applied it a step further to the web. As a result, we live in a world where we can be the first drafters of history with our blogs. A world where you can find a virtual best friend faster than you can say QWERTY. We are idealistic, innovative, and entitled. We are Generation Y—hear us roar!—then give us feedback on its virility, tone, diction, and ferocity.

Yes, that’s right. Give us feedback on our ROOOAAAAR…Ooh, how was that one?

See, one of the funny things about my generation is our strong dislike for ambiguity. We’re constantly seeking out clarity and direction from those whose footsteps we instinctively follow. And as corruption, recessions, and bad business cause pillars of old school career advice to crumble before our eyes, our psyche thanks its lucky stars that there is still one piece of advice that stands strong and serves as the cornerstone of our career path: find mentors.

Finding people is easy now. So we find them. All of a sudden, mentors are like opinions, everybody has them…If possession is 9/10 of the law, the other tenth must be in the sustaining. That’s where the joy is and unfortunately, like the conclusion from that limerick about the Old Man From Nantucket, it’s the part they never teach.

I can remember sending a development plan to one of my self-appointed mentors (a regional HR executive) for review. I waited and waited for a response but never got one. As luck would have it, I saw her a few months later at a company event and we made the usual small talk. Just when I was about to convince myself that perhaps she hadn’t received it, she turns to me and says, “Oh, by the way, I got your email, it’s just that I’ve got a STACK of those stupid things from other people thiiis thick.”

She didn’t mean it harshly, but when she held up her thumb and forefinger indicating a space that was just large enough for my shattered ego to nestle in, my shattered ego nestled. And I became peeved. I felt like the victim of a mentoring booty call. I’d love to say that we made up in a truly happily-ever-after fashion, but in reality I never sent her anything again, a decision I regret to this day.

Fortunately, regret can be a good teacher. From my experience, I learned when dealing with a mentor there’s a need for absolute truth-telling. Time is money and there’s not enough money in the bank to spend hours sorting through falsehoods. We have to value their time as much, if not more, than they do. It’s risky because honesty strips you down to one of your most vulnerable traits: your intent. Turns out my intent in the case above was validation and not development. I would’ve been better off sending repeated “Hey do you think I’m good at what I do?” emails. Sounds ridiculous, right?

It’s important for all parties to realize the mentor/mentee relationship is not one of a parasitic nature where the host is the only one exploited. There is an implicit burden of responsibility on the mentee. Mentees must possess an inherent discipline that allows them to listen even when they disagree, be organized enough to always ask great questions, and understand that at the end of the day they are still the ones accountable for their decisions. In essence, an effective mentee should be able to extract from a person’s life without being taxing. When you start becoming taxing rather than someone people want to have around, you become an anchor. Anchors are not where it’s at…

Now, about that roar…