McKean Minute: Measuring Mentees

Another title for this piece might be “Assessing Apprentices,” but either way, the idea is that every good mentor has more business than he or she can handle. If you are serious about and good at mentoring (whether it’s hunting or weaving or photography), then you will have more apprentices than you can adequately teach.

We’ve previously described mentoring as a handmade relationship, and the more people you cram into the experience, the more diluted and unsustainable the outcome.

Which brings us back to the headline: how can a mentor figure out which apprentice, or “mentee,” will catch the bug and become a lifelong participant, and hopefully a mentor themselves? It’s not easy, and unspooling a relationship that doesn’t work out can result in bruised feelings and enduring bitterness.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. I love mentoring beginning hunters, teaching them to shoot guns and bows, helping them select gear and appreciate wildlife, and finally putting it all together on a hunt. The more I do it, the more I have people asking me to take them. But I have a finite amount of time, and I want to spend some of it either by myself or with my family.

I’ve taken folks hunting who I felt sorry for, or because I was doing their parent a favor. But both charity and obligation make thin soup, and you’ll know it’s a poor match when you become aware that you are wasting your own and each other’s time.

So, I’ve learned to be choosy which beginners I mentor. I do it by first assessing their purpose. Are they interested because they are being encouraged by a parent or friend, or do they have a glowing coal of interest in themselves? Are they likely to stick it out, in spite of (or maybe as a result of) disappointment, or are they inclined to fold their tent the minute they have hardship? Are they enthusiastic and easy to spend time with? Are they spunky, and capable of pushing back on topics or situations that make them uncomfortable, or are they head-nodding yes-folks? Do they seem like they could be good teachers themselves?

All those are things to consider as you begin a mentor/apprentice relationship. Some of these relationships will bloom into lifelong connections. Others will struggle and eventually wither. But if you ask the right questions, and take time to really consider each other, then even if you drift apart, the relationship will bear fruit for many years, and maybe generations, into the future.

Here’s the other hook to this relationship: the apprentice should pick their mentor with the same critical considerations. No one wants to be stuck with a dogmatic, overly intense and rigid instructor.

But when you both go into the relationship with open eyes and honest expectations, then there’s no end to the work you can do together, or the number of apprentices – and mentors – you can have in your life, all at the same time.

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