McKean Minute: When Mentoring Becomes Enabling

A few years ago, Josh invited a neighbor who had never hunted before to join him on the family place. The mentoring relationship stuck, and the neighbor became an accomplished hunter. Then last year, the neighbor showed up with his four kids. Could Josh please teach them how to hunt, he asked?

“I didn’t really know how to respond,” Josh told me last week. “I mean, I’m happy to do it. I really enjoy taking new people out, and besides, I like these people. They’re my neighbors. But we don’t have that much room at my family place, and besides….”

He didn’t have to finish. I knew exactly where he was going. It should be up to the neighbor to take the baton and teach his own kids, to find his own place, and to start his own traditions.

Josh’s situation is actually more common than you’d think, and the fear of creating a “nanny state” of new hunters probably keeps many would-be mentors from beginning a relationship with a prospective apprentice. You want to be the spark that lights a flame under a new hunter, but you don’t want to become a crutch that they require every single time they hunt going forward. So how do you taper your assistance?

The best way is to simply over-communicate. Be clear from the beginning that your guidance is temporary. If you share a special spot, be explicit that it’s not permanent permission. If you share a special piece of gear, it’s okay to tell the recipient that the donation pipeline isn’t endless. The alternative to setting these boundaries is frustration and resentment at your apprentice, and that’s not healthy for either party.

Josh ended up taking his neighbor’s entire family hunting last season, but he also made it clear that the charity had an expiration date.

“I told my neighbor that I’d be there to answer any questions as he found a new place to hunt,” Josh said. “But then I also told him I was taking a new friend to the family farm for the late season. I think it took him by surprise, but he rolled with it. I think he knew that he was stepping over a line. I told him I’d come over and help him butcher if he or his kids got a deer. Last week he brought me over a big bag of jerky from a deer they had just shot. I think they figured things out just fine.”

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2 thoughts on “McKean Minute: When Mentoring Becomes Enabling”

  1. This is great advice in every aspect of life even parenting. We have to learn to love and let go so we don’t get used and become enablers. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to be charitable but it means we set limits. Great article. Thanks for sharing it. I was very blessed to have a mentor teach me hunting 5 years ago and he’s since gone to be with the Lord and I’ve been very successful at hunting thanks in a great part to him.

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