Forget What You Know About Mentoring: It’s Not Just for Work

4 min read

Mentoring is a path to self-improvement, skill development, and expertise. Yet, there are pervasive myths that shroud the concept of mentoring, preventing many from embracing its potential, especially during the middle years of life.

As the notable theorist and developmental psychologist Erik Erikson observed, in midlife, we naturally develop a desire to give back to our communities to impart our knowledge and experiences to the next generation. We can do this through volunteering, mentoring, and philanthropy.

Mentoring is a way we can take a piece of ourselves (knowledge, skills, values) and impart them to another, who continues to carry them. It’s free, it’s something we are built to do intrinsically, and it follows our own personal passions. Contrary to popular misconceptions, mentoring isn’t limited to the corporate world or to professionals seeking to climb the career ladder. It’s a universal practice that extends to every corner of our lives, encompassing learning, growth, and the constant refinement of our skills, values, and expertise.

Perhaps the most astonishing truth about mentoring is that it comes into its own after the age of 40, precisely when we’ve accrued a wealth of experiences, wisdom, and expertise. So, if you’ve ever considered mentoring or being mentored, it’s high time to let go of preconceived notions and embrace the boundless possibilities it offers.

Here are some common myths about mentoring:

  • Mentoring is only for young people. Mentoring can be beneficial for people of all ages, regardless of their experience or career level. In fact, many people find that mentoring can be even more valuable later in their careers, when they have more experience to share and can offer more guidance to their mentees. Midlife is also a time when midlifers can benefit from the wisdom of those who are just starting out and have a fresh perspective or expertise in an area that is new (often tech).
  • Mentors need to be experts in their field. While it is helpful if mentors have some experience and knowledge in the mentee’s field, it is not essential. Mentors can also provide valuable guidance and support in areas such as career development, personal growth, inspiration, and networking. Learning the path of someone who has made it in a field is very helpful, not just for concrete guidance but as inspiration. Mentoring is not only for people in the same field. While it is true that mentoring can be most effective when the mentor and mentee have similar interests and goals, it is not essential. In fact, mentoring can be a great way to learn about different industries and perspectives. Midlifers can benefit from the expertise of others from a variety of backgrounds to guide them in new pursuits, give new perspectives, and to provide a burst of creativity.
  • Mentoring is a one-way street. Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship; both the mentor and mentee benefit from the experience. The mentor gains satisfaction from helping others and seeing their mentees succeed, while the mentee gains guidance, support, and knowledge from the mentor. Without a two-way street, mentoring does not occur.
  • Mentoring is always formal. Mentoring can be formal or informal. Formal mentoring programs are typically structured and organized, with clear goals and objectives. Informal mentoring relationships can be more casual and flexible, and they may develop organically over time.
  • Mentoring is only hierarchical. A very powerful form of mentoring (and one very useful for those in middle age) is lateral mentoring: mentoring and receiving mentorship from those in different fields with different areas of expertise. Just look left and look right. You are likely looking at your next mentor or mentee!

Mentoring is a valuable relationship that can provide support, guidance, and knowledge to both the mentor and mentee at any age, regardless of their experience or career level. Mentorship is valuable to both mentor and mentee and is not just for those seeking career advancement. Midlife is a time of personal exploration and growth, and mentors are everywhere helping us find our passion projects to advance our personal and professional growth. Mentoring allows us to live on in the lives of others.

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