There is Power in Paying it Forward


The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines mentorship as “the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or an educational institution.” This loose definition means that virtually all of us have been mentors or mentees at some point in our professional or academic lives.

What is surprising is that outside of highly rigid and formal settings, we rarely talk about mentorship.

We speak of internships, volunteering, collaboration. We offer to trade services or take brief unpaid gigs in the hope we will gain exposure down the road. What we don’t do, it seems, is talk openly about our relationships with our mentors.

It could be argued that our collective distaste toward mentorship is rooted in Western cultural ideals of self-sufficiency, strength, and the pursuit of materialism. Perhaps we are simply afraid to admit we don’t know everything, and we would rather avoid using language that we find revealing of our shortcomings.

For most of human history mentorship was accepted as a non-negotiable part of education. Knowledge was passed down from elders to young apprentices, who then did the same as they aged and gained more wisdom. Skilled trades were taught one-on-one. Professional relationships, in this sense, were deeper and more profound.

There is no shame in acknowledging our own weaknesses, just as there is no shame in celebrating our strengths. When we find ourselves at an impasse, we feel ashamed. When we are succeeding professionally and personally, we forget to show gratitude towards those who helped us along the way.

We all, at some point or another, become disciples. Even if you have humbled yourself enough to accept the wisdom offered from a mentor in your community, it is less likely that you will seek out someone you can mentor yourself. Unfortunately, amidst ruthless rivalry and competition in the creative fields, we often forget the value in sharing what we know.

Even if you are not have not yet achieved your ultimate dream, there’s a good chance you’re still higher up than someone. That individual might long to hear your story and to learn directly from you. If you don’t personally think that you possess the insight needed to serve as a mentor to someone, you might be surprised. Perhaps the knowledge that you take for granted could liberate someone else who is not yet at your professional level. Your positive reinforcement may help give them the confidence they need to chase a secret dream.

Every single person in the world has the potential to teach you something. Every individual has a unique perspective to share. Millennials have all the tools we need to create a pay-it-forward movement and create a mentorship revolution.

In every major city in the world, inclusive and supportive communities are becoming commonplace, and co-working spaces provide physical, one-on-one engagement with others. We are standing on the brink of a major turning point. So, what is holding us back?

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