Someone once said that the best way to learn is to teach.
This sounds like a very nice, but very subjective quote to me. The vague platitude kind we would find in someone’s Linked-In or Facebook ‘info’ tab, right next to the other half-dozen Einstein or Jefferson nuggets of wisdom. Many inspiring, no doubt, but the lessons implied can certainly be polar opposites depending on who is saying them to you. We have to know that these lessons that influence us or the mistakes we learn from might derive from simple pilot-error and on-the-fly preaching, rather than true mentoring.
Beware someone who is eagerly ready with advice before you even ask your first question. They might not be ready to listen to you yet. And it might not even be important or necessary for them to listen to you at all. Teaching is not always being a mentor any more than getting pregnant is being a parent.
“Two nerds.. rack ‘em! Slap the Senator! Molest the toast & Water-board Anita Bryant!… Oh, and biscuits and gravy!” Yup.. You better learn the lingo quick if you want to be a good short-order cook! And that’s exactly what we turn into if we don’t have a good mentor showing us the ropes. “Hector, could you cover that client meeting and just drop off the contract?” “Hector, could you meet the appraiser and let them into the condo if the doorman isn’t there?” “Hector, could you pick up some continental breakfasts on your way in tomorrow, for my new client presentation?… oh, and biscuits and gravy too!”
Sure I believe in paying your dues and learning to appreciate hard work, but if you’re going to search for a good mentor, it’s almost mandatory that you apply some critical thinking from the very beginning. Spend time asking and learning about what NOT to do and the consequences resulting. Be patient. Expect evolution. Work hard. Sometimes it’s easier to start your business plan with what you want to avoid instead of starting with a wish list. Your checklist should work backwards too. If it does, that will reveal itself on its own soon enough!
And, every bit as important, if you are asked yourself to consider mentoring someone, then you should be as willing to learn as you are willing to teach. Things change all the time. We can show someone all the valuable lessons they have ahead of them to learn, but we will need to learn how to use the new teaching tools if we are to expect them to pay attention.
Sometimes the best way to teach is to learn. Only then can we be a half-way decent mentor.