Dispelling Common Myths About Mentorship

by Amy Steinberg Published Sep 4, 2018 Last updated Sep 4, 2018

Mentorship is an important part of developing a career, and it isn’t only for the beginning stages. In fact, mentorship can be especially important in an established career because it is at this point when the paths forward become less clear and more personalized. Having someone who has walked these paths before or who has particularly valuable knowledge of the journey ahead can be the difference between struggling and thriving in meeting your goals.

Dispelling the Myths

There are a lot of myths about the mentee-mentor relationship, though, and getting the most out of mentorship requires dispelling these misconceptions.

  • Myth 1: Mentoring is only for beginners.

Mid-career mentoring is crucial to avoiding a plateau in your trajectory and really reaching your loftiest goals. Many people think of mentors as those who shepherd newcomers through the early stages of careers, but the truth is that people need mentoring at all stages of their career, and the mentor relationship can become even more valuable mid-career when the path gets trickier to navigate.

Developing a mid-career mentor is a little more organic than finding one as a newcomer (when they are sometimes even assigned through official programs). Instead, these mentorships usually develop slowly out of careful outreach.

Mid-career mentorships can be especially important for building a sense of self-confidence and worth, crucial qualities for growth. As Boston architect Emily Papparelle explains about her own mid-career mentoring experience, “I learned we do still need mentors 10 years into careers. It’s not too late. You have been in the same place for 10 years and you start to not really know your place. And someone else says ‘No, I have seen your portfolio. I have gotten to know you. You are very valuable, here is your potential.'”

  • Myth 2: Mentors must be superiors. 

Another misconception is that the mentor relationship must be one firmly rooted in an established hierarchy and that the mentor must be someone from a superior position. The truth is that peer mentorships and bidirectional mentorships can be incredibly rewarding and important.

Shelley Zalis explains that today’s workers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of multi-generational knowledge and insight: “We can learn from everyone— regardless of level. This is the first time in history that we have five generations together in the workplace—Gen Z coming in and Traditionalists moving out (but retiring much later).”

  • Myth 3: Mentors must be from our industry or field.

This is an especially important myth to dispel if you are building peer and bidirectional mentorships. A mentor does not have to be someone who has traveled the exact path that you are traveling. Some of the best insights can come from someone with a different perspective, and reaching out beyond your own field gives you the chance to bring in a different viewpoint that can complement your own knowledge and experiences.

  • Myth 4: A mentor relationship must be formally agreed upon.

Mentoring isn’t like a check yes or no note slipped to the person you are hoping to learn from. While formal mentor programs can be an excellent resource, they are not the only way to gain the benefits of mentorship.

A mentor is anyone who is helping you navigate your professional path with insight and wisdom, a person you can call for advice and meet for a brainstorm session. You do not need the labels of “mentor” and “mentee” to build this relationship, and some people who might not consider themselves mentors are actually doing quite a lot of mentoring just through the relationships they cultivate.

  • Myth 5: Only mentees will benefit.

Sometimes the mentor relationship is seen as a one-way street where the mentor graciously agrees to sacrifice time and talent to selflessly support a mentee. The truth, though, is that mentorships are often mutually beneficial.

Mentorship provides the mentor with lots of opportunities as well. Mentors build leadership experience that they can then use to advance their own careers as well as honing universally valuable skills in communication and coaching. Many mentors find that their own perspectives and understanding of their career paths improve because of the work they have done to organize their thoughts and articulate them to a mentee.

In addition, mentors who are working with others in their own company are helping to build a culture of talent and success that benefits their own work environment. Mentoring is truly a win-win for everyone involved.

  • Myth 6: You can only have one mentor.

A mentorship is not like a marriage. You don’t have to pick a single mentor and stay with them for life. Mentor relationships are fluid and multi-directional. You can find different mentors for various elements of your professional growth and development. Maybe you seek out a particular person to help you with research skills and a different person to help you with navigating interpersonal office relationships.

Recognizing that people have different strengths allows you to build a network of support, and it also lets you spread out the time and resources it takes to be a great mentor, giving people more space to mentor well.

“I like to think about mentors as a board of advisors,” says career expert Lindsey Pollak. Getting a multiplicity of viewpoints and opinions can help you make decisions with more confidence and a more thorough understanding of the various possible perspectives.

Conclusion

Mentorship provides a bidirectional opportunity for growth and strengthened skills. The formality of the term and other common misconceptions can make building a mentorship relationship seem daunting, but the truth is that you probably already have budding mentor relationships in your life.

Take a moment and think about who you rely on when you are struggling with a decision. Who do you call when you need to talk something over? Who do you admire and use as a model for deciding what path to take next? These people are probably already serving you as mentors of sorts, and taking some time to intentionally and meaningfully foster those relationships can create long-lasting and incredibly rewarding mentorships that will carry you to your goals and beyond.