616: Mentorship

A Thousand Things to Talk About
616: Mentorship

Have you ever had a mentor? What do you remember most about the experience?

Full episode script

Etymology is usually an interesting insight into the history and usage of a word, but occasionally it is so demonstrative that almost nothing could top it. The word, and the action of, mentorship is one of those situations.


The action of mentorship is a eponym from The Odyssey, when Athena herself makes an appearance in the life of a directionless young man, in the form of their old family friend named Mentor. In the person of that family friend, Athena makes an effort to instill a heroic mentality, or a strength of mind, in the younger man. She connects him to his history and the strengths he has available to him.


In short, she becomes his Mentor – both literally and figuratively. In doing so, she sets him up for success.


Today, mentorship can be a much more formalized process, though absent a formal process through your employer, educational institution, or networking group, identifying and developing a mentorship relationship can feel intimidating.


Kathy Caprino, in Forbes, explained it this way:


Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, likens asking strangers to be mentors to the behavior of the main character in the favorite children’s book Are You My Mother? The book is about a baby bird that emerges from its shell in an empty nest, and goes in search of its mother.  The little bird asks everything it sees (a kitten, hen, dog, cow, steam shovel), “Are you my mother?” The answer is always the same. “No!” This is just like a professional asking a stranger, “Will you be my mentor?”

Sandberg says: “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious.  The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.