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your mentor may not be the best person to mentor you October 16, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned.
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It never hurts to have a mentor. You’ve got someone to show you the ropes, introduce you around, ease you into the workflow, and hang out with at lunchtime. Mentoring’s great, if you get the right person to mentor you.

In fourth grade, I was more than a bit of an outcast. My one close friend had changed schools, and I somehow gravitated toward this guy — let’s call him Tom — who I’d never really liked, but who was also an outcast. We got on fine, I suppose.

A few weeks after school started, the teacher said “we have a new student. TG and Tom, I’d like you to show him around. Guys, this is Ulysses.” (In real life, his name was rather ethnic, so Ulysses works.) We went up to him, both of us bigger by more than a few pounds and at least three inches apiece, and said hello.

Tom noticed Ulysses was wearing a Databank watch. Tom and I both had them as well. We held them up and Tom said, “cool! We can be the Databankers!”

That sounded a lot cooler to my ten-year-old ears than it does now. But somehow Ulysses and we became friends and hung out for the better part of the year.

The problem was this: if my teacher wanted Ulysses to make friends, she put him with the wrong crowds. Tom and I didn’t have any other friends that grade year, and we didn’t get along with almost anyone. It was the three of us against the rest of fourth grade, and things didn’t go well for us most of the time.

Ulysses skipped fifth grade and Tom and I, who remained friends until the end of our fifth grade year, didn’t really miss him all that much. I hope that, when he got to middle school, he found a much better pair of mentors than Tom and me.

Lesson Learned: Having a mentor is great, but not if your mentor doesn’t know what’s going on or how to interact with other people.

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