Google defines a mentor as “an experienced or trusted adviser. A mentor provides guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modeling. He or she is someone who lends assistance in exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts and identifying resources.” After thirty-five years in the field of career guidance for university students, I highly recommend the mentor relationship in its true spirit. In the past, this would often begin with what was called an informational interview where a student would select a professional in their intended field to either set up a meeting with or make a cold call asking questions about what their work was like. Often that first contact began a mentor/mentee relationship because the professional was usually excited about the idea of having a protégé and eager to share their experiences. The idea was to take someone under their experienced wing and pass on the lineage of wisdom to future generations ready to learn the ropes and bring in the important fresh spin of a novice.
I’ve had several mentors in my life who helped me better my career. My most influential mentor passed away a couple of years ago after working with me for decades and becoming a close friend. I have returned the favor in kind to aspiring writers and former students. It is my pleasure to hold their hands as they navigate their paths. So when it came time to meet the mentorship requirements in my graduate program in the holistic health arena, I was more than eager to once again play the role of mentee. I was not prepared to discover that the now overstated corporate phrase of “My time is valuable,” has wormed its way into this relationship. I was disappointed to learn that many faculty members and professionals now charge for mentoring. One quote I received from a potential mentor after calculating his hourly fee, was $13,500 for the duration of the 45-hour mentorship, a cost that exceeds my overall tuition. There was a time when charging anything for a mentorship would have been considered highly unethical. What was once a sacred give and take mutual exchange now has a price tag on it.
In every mentor relationship I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of, whether on the giving or receiving end, I have always benefited. It is a shame that we expect dollars now for our words and deeds that require very little time, and can be enjoyed through coffee or happy hour meetings. It is no wonder our young people have such a difficult time finding the support, encouragement and networks that make it easier for them to move forward. Paying for it cheapens the experience. I personally would not feel right ever accepting payment for guiding someone who wants to follow in my footsteps, like a wise elder expecting financial gain for guiding a young warrior. It is by mentoring that my work is validated, and it is from my mentee’s feedback that I learn how to improve. This is an experience rewarded by heart currency. A gift.
My mentoring will remain forever free, and I challenge my colleagues to do the same. And since I am now a graduate student with little funds to spare, hopefully I will find a likeminded guide who sees me as a curious, capable and enthusiastic student who wants to contribute to society, worthy enough to lead into the future without cost, and not just someone to sell their knowledge to who takes up their valuable time.
Like the simple creatures we have domesticated that surround us each day, we all must learn to take care of each other. Unconditionally.