My Mentorship realization
I was stuck. I had that sucking feeling just below my diaphragm that I remembered from when I almost asked the perfect girl to the prom. Because I was afraid, I hesitated. Because I hesitated, the opportunity was lost.
But I wasn’t stuck this time because of a girl. I had all that well sorted before I hit thirty. Now I was 41 and I had that same sucking feeling. I was afraid to take the wrong step. I was afraid to miss the opportunity to improve my career. But I didn’t know what to do.
I was stuck. I needed help.
Most people will feel that way at some point in their career. It can be daunting to try and evaluate the cost of failure against the benefit of the unknown. When we need help, where do we turn?
If one is lucky, he or she may work in an organization that provides mentorship opportunities. Sometimes this is a good option. Sometimes outside assistance may be best. Who do you call hen you decide outside assistance is needed?
Since all the Ghostbusters have retired (loved that movie!), maybe you look on-line for a coach, or do you need a mentor? Is there a difference between a coach and a mentor? If so, which do I need and how do I locate one that is “right” for me? Do I look for someone that understands tech? Someone who has experience working with developers and those that manage them?
Ricky’s lucky day
Ricky was the first pick in the 2021 major league baseball draft. The NY Mets selected the star shortstop from Texas Tech ahead of many other fine baseball players. He arrived at the stadium, and after putting on his practice uniform walked out onto the field. He stopped to the right of the batting cage just to take in the atmosphere.
A truly rotund, short and “aromatic” older gentleman walked over saying “Hey Ricky, my name is Slim, and I am the infield coach. After you warm up meet me and the other infielders in right field and we’ll start some drills. I want to see how many bad habits you picked up at that cut rate baseball mill they call Texas Tech.”
Four years later, Ricky was talking to his agent Mark. Mark had been in the business of managing baseball players for 40 plus years. At almost 70, he still looked like he could hold his own in a pick-up basketball game anywhere in Manhattan. Mark had played three years of varsity basketball at Manhattan College before blowing out his knee. He had to settle for law school instead of the pro’s. Mark was at an age where his money was already made, and he no longer had the energy to spend it all. He took Ricky out to Rosie o’Grady’s on 7th Ave in Manhattan for a great steak dinner and a bit of a chat.
“Listen Ricky, you’re a good kid. You live a clean life, you take care of your health, you stay in great shape, and you are a real positive leader in that infield. Making the All-Star team is a big deal. Congratulations on that.”
“Thanks Mark – I had a lot of help. Ernie at first base saves my ass constantly” replied Ricky.
Mentor asking the right question
“I think” says Mark, “that you should consider free agency this summer, and you might want to get a more energetic manager for that. Mark offered to recommend someone fantastic. I also think that we should chat a little about where you want to be in 10 or 15 years when you hang up your cleats. Is it important that you won a couple championships? What do you want your legacy to be?”
“But Mark, I love NY!, my wife loves NY. I love my teammates, and we have a real energy going here” Ricky pauses before saying under his breath “I don’t want to leave this team”.
“Ricky, please describe for me what is really important to you, and how you want to be remembered.”
One of these things is not like the other
So who is the coach, and who is the mentor? Can you tell?
Slim has the correct role designation for his job. He is a coach. He has a very particular skill-set (not unlike Liam Neeson) that is standard and transferable to a specific set of individuals. Can you imagine him trying to coach a soccer team, or a Lacrosse team. Maybe an ice hockey team? No, he works with baseball players, specifically infielders. The majority of those skills don’t translate to any other positions. He doesn’t coach pitchers or catchers, or outfielders for that matter. And when Ricky moves on, Slim will attempt to teach the same basic infielding skills to the next person that puts on the practice uniform. That is what coaches do.
Mark, on the other hand, is the mentor. He looks out for Ricky’s best long term career outcome, and is interested in what will make Ricky happy rather than what will improve his skills.
Do you know whether you need a coach or a mentor? How can you tell?
Mentors provide the road map
I would suggest starting with asking yourself if you know, and I mean really KNOW, what your best final destination looks like. Some individuals do know, but most don’t. The problem is that you only have your own experiences, which limits the possibilities you can envision.
My suggestion is that unless you are absolutely double downward-facing-dog sure of where you want to go, start with a mentor. Mentors are adept at asking the right questions to help you find your best result while motivating you in that direction.
After you know where you are going, you can be sure that the coaching you receive is moving you down that path.
Stay safe and healthy until we chat again,