I’ve always loved talking to old people. I’m lucky this way. Seeking out advice and finding mentors has always come naturally to me.
I’m the beneficiary of the combined wisdom handed down by a handful of mentors. They’ve taken countless hours to share their experiences with me, and it has had an immeasurable impact on my life. I’m eternally grateful.
I like to say that mentors are like ‘lighter fluid to accelerate wisdom acquisition.’ A quick dose of wisdom goes a long way.
They can’t walk the road for me, but they give me maps to follow.
We’ve all heard some form of the expression, ‘if you want to see where you’ll be in the next five years, look at the five people closest to you.’
By most accounts, this seems to be true. We tend to pick up the habits and viewpoints of the people within close proximity, for better or worse. This goes for our mentors as well as our peer group and the younger generations coming up behind us.
To keep things simple, I often think about my closest friends, confidants, and business associates as:
The categories seem pretty self-explanatory, but I looked up the definitions on Google to dig a little deeper:
The French and Latin roots (and before that, Greek) are ironic since the French word “menteur” translates to “liar” in English. And I had no idea – or least didn’t remember from high school – that Mentor was the name of an adviser character in Homer’s Odyssey.
In any case, mentor means trusted adviser.
I also found it interesting that the usage of the word has increased exponentially over the last 50 years. Perhaps the dawn of the information age gives us extra motivation to seek out advice and “accelerate our wisdom”?
Another surprise here: I had never heard the word “peer” used to describe British aristocracy.
And again, Google says that the usage of the word has increased exponentially over the last 50 years.
But the word’s origin from Latin “par” means equal, which makes sense.
Looks like “mentee” is simply another form of “mentor”. Fair enough.
I like to picture it like this:
One insight as I get older is realizing that all of these people are interchangeable. We are all in constant motion.
When I was younger, I would go to mentors for advice and wisdom. It was more or less a one-way street of them passing down information and teaching me. Nowadays, the roles start reverse as my mentors’ lives are sun-setting and they rely more and more on me to give them context above what’s going on in the world. (Hint: it’s changing and changing fast.)
Peers drop in from time to time for short bursts, with a few who hang on for the ride.
How many people in your peer group do you talk to you that you’ve known for more than 5 years? 10 years? 20? You get the point.
And – maybe most importantly – mentees are the bedrock. The reason is simple: you can’t fully understand something until you can teach it to someone else.
Medical schools have a process for training doctors that goes like this: See one, do one, teach one. It’s a great system that combines learning from a mentor, sharing with peers, and teaching the next in line.
Or: mentor, peer, mentee.
People come and go at a high frequency. Some last the test of time, some don’t. Every once in a while, the wrong people infiltrate your inner circle and have to be expunged. And sometimes good relationships slip through our fingers. Both scenarios are painful but provide life-long lessons.
Those who last the longest share a common theme: we develop relationships of deserved trust that is mutually beneficial. It takes time. We talk, listen, and learn from each other continuously. We realize that the skills and experience that got us through one chapter of life won’t necessarily carry over to the next, and we’re willing to help each other figure it out together.
The teacher becomes the student and the student becomes the teacher, over and over again.