Mentorship in the Age of Instant-ity

Quite a few years ago, I had a conversation with a colleague about mentorship.  She mentioned that she didn’t mind being a mentor but found it exhausting and often not worth her time.  Then, I was younger, looking for guidance and surprised by her thoughts.  Now, I understand her meaning.  Let me explain.

I believe information should be free and that knowledge is power.  Currently, we are in the age of “instant-ity”; you can get most information you need pretty easily from the convenience of your cellphone, laptop or even television.  Thus it appears that information is, for the most part, free and that you can wield power over your own existence through the knowledge you’ve obtained via this information.  But this is where the problem lies, and ultimately the disconnect between generations lately.

There is a lot of information sharing, but very little knowledge gathering.  Or, to put it in simpler terms, there are lots of clear highways but people are still not getting to their desired destination.  To put it into even more context, think about this: we have numerous ways to contact people (email, text, Facebook, Twitter, whatever) and yet we still have problems connecting.  It’s not the medium, it’s the message.  The information is out there, and it always has been, but folks are not reading the message.

Because it is so easy to get the information, there is a perception that then the next step is just as simple.  The truth is, it isn’t.  So when my colleague said that mentorship was a waste of her time, it wasn’t that she did not want to be helpful.  She wanted to be helpful, but to people who wanted to be helped.  She wanted to assist someone who had done her due diligence and research.  Not someone who felt entitled to her assistance.  Someone who believed that emailing a stranger to ask them an in-depth question (instead of first looking it up and exhausting all other resources) was enough.

Interestingly enough, when I was younger, I didn’t really understand this.  In truth, I think it is because I didn’t really have much to offer and so no one ever approached me in that manner.  (And perhaps partly because of the work ethic instilled in me by my upbringing, but that’s a story for another day.)  Quite a few years later, this exact scenario has played out in front of me.  I’ve been asked questions that have enraged me, mostly because I spent X number of hours looking up the possible solutions and even then, my solutions are just that: possible solutions.

Lord knows I don’t have all the answers.  Nobody has all the answers.  If you try to Google something really obscure, you’ll find that even Google doesn’t have all the answers.  But you need to get to that point in order to really obtain some knowledge.  And honestly, you’ll gain a great sense of pride, along with many, many peers (many of whom may eventually become your mentors) when you fully understand that there is no easy answer.  Unfortunately, there are no substitutes for smarts and a bit of elbow grease.