Seeking a mentor? Don’t look beyond yourself

By Sandhya D’Mello

If only someone was there to tell you what would happen of the consequences of your action every time, life would be much more easy as it shortens the period of agony and regrets would be lesser than we fathom.

So who is this someone I am referring to? It could be anyone; a mentor, a father-figure — you are free to label any relationship or that one person who you would want to lead you. I, for all my life, foolishly wanted a mentor who could lead me, while I never realised the truth that I am unique and blessed with my set of skills and talents and that — yes — I am my mentor.

The path you take could be possibly a new one itself and you could be pioneering it, and perhaps your elders, peers, that teacher in school, that professor, or that first boss you worked with will never be able to carve a roadmap for you as you are the one treading on that path. After all, you are the author of your life and you will end the journey of your career the way you wished to end it, no?

Before I proceed with my saga and perceptions of mentors, let me caution you that this piece is certainly not for the fortunate ones who were mentored: It is for extremely mediocre, average mortals like me who strive daily to learn something from the future generation and unlearn from the past, shedding stereotypes while at the same time holding on to the values that were so carefully instilled in me in my formative years and attempting to learn something new to ensure I don’t become obsolete.

My kids are my biggest test-beds as they constantly prove that their generation is more sane than mine. Perhaps, yes, maybe as they know even at such a tender age what they want, the likes and dislikes that will chalk their future path and, mind you, they don’t need a mentor in flesh and blood. For instance, while doing homework, they might just shout “Mum! I need your help!”, and a delay of even five minutes to respond will cause them to instantly jump on their Google Assistant; you’ll then hear a quick “never mind, I cracked it”.

While it is heartbreaking to see your kids trusting Google more than you, at the same time it is quite heartening to see how they seek the right information and do not depend on anyone as knowledge is at their fingertips.

So why the need of a mentor, when you have one locked in yourself? I am growing and evolving in unknown times, bridging life from the post-baby boomers era to Generation X and now having to deal with millennials and Generation Z. Let us assume that if I ever wanted someone to lead me, he/she should have been well-equipped to handle my queries from past, present and future. It is only when I constantly seek to live in tomorrow, question the system and bust tech tips that made me think, would my mentor have been in position to handle my numerous queries?

The answer is no. My mentor would have been someone who would be my senior and would be more informed than I am and that place has fortunately or unfortunately been replaced by the Internet.

The topic of mentorship compels me to share a beautiful phase of my life: Having graduated in 1993 I wielded my graduation degree with a diploma in journalism and stepped in the Free Press Journal for a brief period and then managed a job in Capital Market magazine followed by a brief period in The Observer. In those places, I had a limited network and yet managed to somehow break stories with my limited wisdom sans any mentor.

Come 1995, I was equipped enough to take that leap and approached The Economic Times for a job. Every journalist dreams of working with the Times of India group. I was equally thrilled and excited to have bagged a job, with little inkling as to what was in store for me when I decided to take the plunge and join them.

My peers had also managed to bag a job in the same group and enjoyed a bit more favouritism as they had influential parents in the media. One fine day I was summoned by a senior editor; I was thrilled that, finally, someone is interested in my existence. As I hurried to his cabin, I was told bluntly, with a smirk on his face, in Gujarati, “Taru kai nahi tahse, you don’t have a godfather” (“Nothing will come out of you as you don’t have a godfather”).

As this editor decided to act like Vito Andolini Corleone from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, I was startled to hear something coming from such a veteran. I always believed that a leader is someone who leads the younger generation and mentors them, yet here I was listening to someone who decided to pass judgement on my career even before it took off.

Fast-forward 2019, I am glad I never found my mentor as I had the opportunity to unlock my talents, likes and dislikes before someone else could influence me. And just in case if you are curious as to what happened to that senior editor. Well, he is in heaven and perhaps wondering how a mediocre woman like me has finally succeeded without a ‘godfather’. Well, the secret, sir, is that I unlocked my mentor within myself.

Sandy, as she is called, despises people who can’t understand or make sense on what they’re reading

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