136. The Misconception of Mentorship
One man's search for mentorship meaning
One of my greatest faults is my obsessive level of curiosity.
Yes, it’s also one of my greatest strengths, but as the former philosopher Jerry Garcia so famously said, “every silver lining has a touch of grey.”
I don’t like not knowing things. It’s a problem. When I don’t know something that I want to know, I study it intensely. Addictively. Borderline pathologically.
I’m doing that with the web3/DeFi/crypto/NFT world right now. I mean, literally, right now. It’s 3:45 am. I got out of bed 10 minutes ago and dove into articles and discords again. I only stopped for a few minutes to write this confession about the rabbit hole I’ve slowly been sliding down over the past months.
One of the reasons why I love both Google and the library is because all the answers about everything are right there for the taking in the library and the Google. It’s awesome.
Yes, I am Jeff and I am a knowledge addict.
Man’s Search for Mentorship
When I had just graduated college and started out on my career, I knew I was green. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but the weight of this burden to learn everything was bearing down on my shoulders.
I wanted to know all the answers to all the questions I didn’t know to ask, and I would stop at nothing to learn. If I only knew where to start.
Every day I’d aggressively absorb all I could. Keep in mind, this was pre-Google. Back in those ancient days it meant asking questions to other humans, watching how people did things, reading books from the library and doing other assorted types of Gen X behaviors.
I wanted answers and I wanted them immediately. If only I had a mentor.
I was always looking for a mentor. The problem was that I didn’t know how to find one and, even if I did find one, I didn’t know how to communicate with them.
I remember talking with my father about this and getting his advice. My father had also started his own company but it was in a completely different industry than mine. I’m not clear if he had a mentor but I remember he told me I didn’t need one. He said all I had to do was believe in myself.
But I knew better. I knew he was wrong.
A mentor, I believed, was like a guardian angel. Appearing at the most opportune moment. Giving me advice and direction when I didn’t even know I needed it. Giving me all the answers to everything as quickly as possible. Making all the stress of not knowing fade away.
Along my journey, I encountered a couple of people that seemed to know answers to things that I wanted to know. I asked them if they’d be my mentor. It was as if I was asking them to go steady. That’s how desperate I felt.
In each of the situations they said “yeah, sure,” but in each instance there were few conversations that followed. I didn’t contact them because I was embarrassed that I didn’t have any smart questions to ask. Instead, I just waited for them to magically call me with answers.
Needless to say, I haven’t talked with either of them since.
Clearly, I hadn’t found the right mentor. At least that was clear in my mind.
The Mentorship Surprise
Along my way through life, I found friends and colleagues that I enjoyed working with. People with whom I could brainstorm ideas - people I could call with questions and who called me in return.
Somewhere, decades into my career, with friends I could rely on, I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t find a mentor. I gave up looking.
It was about that time when I was in a business meeting with multiple people that one of my colleagues referred to me as his mentor.
<insert sound of car screeching to a stop>
Me? A mentor?!?!
B-b-b-but how can *I* be a mentor? I’ve been looking for a mentor, I haven’t been being a mentor! This isn’t possible. Somethings wrong.
That single moment turned into the single largest mentorship lesson for me. After twenty years of searching for answers, my secret mentee gave me clarity in a single minute.
Confusing a Mentor with a Google Search
For decades I was doing it all wrong.
I suddenly realized that good mentors aren’t found when you’re looking for them - they appear when you’re not paying attention.
The mentor relationship isn’t about giving you answers. Getting answers is what Google is for. Instead, good mentors help you ask the right questions.
For years I thought I just needed answers and didn’t realize that I was confusing mentorship with a Google search.
Suddenly it hit me: All this time it turns out that my father had been right all along. I had been looking desperately for a mentor when what I really needed to do was just believe in myself.
In the end, I realized that my most important mentor, after all, was my father - the very person I didn’t want to listen to. He didn’t tell me what to do. He didn’t give me answers - and that was infuriating. But he was right, answers weren’t what I needed. Instead, he challenged me with the questions I didn’t want to face myself. He forced me to look at myself and my goals. To be vulnerable in ways I hadn’t been ready to admit, and to accept myself in ways I hadn’t been ready to believe.
Sometimes when you’re looking so desperately for the answers, it’s hard to see that you don’t even know the right questions after all.
“I have no special talents, I’m only passionately curious."
- Albert Einstein