The Right Mentor - Trophy Hunters and Community Gardeners

 Those who do the best professionally have the best networks. Not in the exploitative way that some people associate with networking, but I mean a group of connected and concerned friends and colleagues. They might also be mentors or champions. And they have an authentic interest in your wellbeing. Not just your wellbeing in your current role but thinking ahead to what is possible in your career and life.

The right mentor trophy hunters

For many people, locating the right people as mentors and prospective champions can make an enormous difference in the way forward to realizing professional happiness. With this in mind, I want to offer you a framework for considering those you might seek out, or who seek you out, to mentor you: The trophy hunter vs the community gardener.

Trophy hunters see you as a prize they have acquired and placed on the wall as a measure of their worth. They are often extremely driven and motivated to do what it takes to achieve their desired goals. Here are a few of the characteristics that tell you this person is a Trophy Hunter.

*They hang you up to showcase what they have accumulated and curated.

*They want to claim responsibility for your success. 

*If you wane in prestige, they can easily remove you from the wall and forget about you.

*They do not necessarily have an interest in supporting you when you are struggling. Your success reflects their eye for talent and as it decreases so does their interest.

*They might think of you as a commodity and whether they invest further or remove you from your portfolio may well depend on your performance and how they view your future value. 

I do not think I was ever the superstar that trophy hunters sought, but I do know and support many people who are or were such individuals. They were seen as rising stars or stars. But sometimes, as their luster faded, suddenly they are no longer receiving responses from these formerly engaged mentors. It is not great when you realize that you are no longer the ‘hot’ commodity you were in your early twenties and that some of those early supporters have now bailed on you. 

I think I am also getting at a problem in American careers, more generally. Those “30 under 30 lists” tend to imply that people have to get their careers figured out by the time they reach a certain age. They also pile unrealistic expectations on a few folks, and the idea that your “star” can “fade” is itself kind of unhealthy. People are people. They are more than their career arcs. 

I would rather that you seek out a Community Gardener as your mentor. Community Gardeners see you as someone who is already accomplished but can do even more with the right support. (I have always been more of a community gardener, which one could interpret as biasing this piece just a wee bit). Here are a few of the characteristics of the Community Gardener. 

*They support you because they believe in the importance of the development of others in a field. 

*They are prepared to feed and nurture you so that you can grow further. 

*They do not only see those who have flowered significantly, but also seeds that may need time and attention. 

*They grasp that we go through seasons of struggle and will actively tend to you. 

*These gardeners are part of a larger community that can help you too.

*Your success is fully a reflection of you and your realization of your immense potential not their green thumb.

For myself, and others, who take on this approach the chief challenge can be time management. Depending upon the size of your garden you may have lots of folks to tend to. You learn over time who is better at seeking your advice and support and who is more likely to disappear when things get tough for them that you may need to lure into conversation. I take on an active community gardener role as part of creating the world I want to see.

As you go out into the world and have conversations with people, consider asking prospective mentors how they approach serving in this role. For example, are they open to receiving calls or emails when issues suddenly arise? Or have they supported other mentees who have gone through challenges or dips in their lives? If so, what have they learned?

I think that we can have a scarcity mindset when it comes to mentors but remember that their value is in fulfilling the broader array of issues that might occur. If you are going to engage with trophy hunters, please do so with your eyes wide open. Have realistic expectations. 

Remember that the challenge in who we surround ourselves with is to seek out those who are invested in how the world sees us, not how the world sees them because of their relationship to us. These are the people who will be around through the trials and tribulations that present themselves throughout our career.

Russ Finkelstein [] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.

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