"If I knew then what I know now..." -Your Elders
This phrase — almost always followed by a silent pause, knowing nod or random segue into completely unrelated conversation — has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves in life. I always want to scream, "Finish your sentence!" Tell us, let us know and teach the children what you would do differently at the end of that ellipses. Wisdom is an invaluable commodity, and no matter what stage of life you're in, someone else's then is your now. Although no two experiences are exactly the same, if there is knowledge to be gained and pitfalls avoided through the sharing of experiences, by all means, elders — please share!
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This is the primary reason I began this column. As an older millennial, my decade-and-a-half of adulting has yielded its share of major life keys, and if there's any nugget of value to be gained from that experience, I'm happy to share it. However, I recognize that I still have so much to learn. We all do. The amazing thing is that nothing we're facing is new. It's just new to us. From personal to societal, every issue that we're grappling with today has likely already been faced by the generations that preceded us. Think of how much ground could be gained from taking the time to learn from the triumphs and failures of our elders. Mentorship is important, and as we grow in experience it's equally vital that we assume those mentoring roles for others.
Here are 13 tips to get the most out of your dual-generation mentorship:
1. Be open
Your mentor grew up at a different time, guided by a different set of social norms. Perspectives and terminology might differ, but as long as the dialogue is constructive and honest, you're on the right track.
2. Don't judge
If there is a communication gap between the young and the old, it's not without reason. Too often the wisdom that comes with age is accompanied by critical, judgmental undertones that ultimately surrender effectiveness in condescending delivery. Conversely, the arrogance of youth can sometimes be a barrier to receiving valuable insight. We can do better.
3. Keep it one-hunned
The most impactful conversations are the open and honest ones. In mentorship, it's not about rattling off a list of dos and don'ts, it's about sharing the process of how you arrived at those conclusions. That's how lessons are internalized. Authenticity always resonates.
4. Be vulnerable
Effective mentorship demands a certain level of vulnerability and setting aside of ego. If you're not willing to be transparent, the value of the relationship will be limited.
5. Share stories not sermons
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Save the self-righteous indignation and philosophical sermons. We need to hear about the crazy, careless decisions that earned you that wisdom. Don't tell us what to do, we are capable of thinking for ourselves. Tell us what you did or didn't do and the results of those decisions. That's where the real value is.
6. It's so not about you
Few things are more fulfilling than serving and helping others. If you're a mentor, it's important to take periodic inventory of why you're in this mentorship relationship. Are you here to feel good about yourself or are you genuinely invested in the growth and development of your mentee? If you're a mentee, understand that this is a give and take relationship. You contribute to this relationship too.
7. Take genuine interest
You can give and receive surface-level advise without really knowing a person, but in order to be an effective mentor or mentee, you really need to get to know your mentee or mentor on a personal level. What motivates them? What challenges are they facing?
8. Share successes
If the advice of your mentor leads you to a win, let them know. Take them to lunch, tell them "thank you." Don't take what you need and then disappear. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Advice isn't always necessary. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen. This should be a safe place for mentor and mentee to vent and air their frustrations.
10. Admit what you don't know
As a mentor, it might be tempting to assume the 'know-it-all' role, but you don't know it all. If your mentee has a need that you aren't equipped to meet, tell them or refer them to someone else. As a mentee, there's no need to try to impress. Mentorships are most effective when both parties bring their real selves to the table.
11. Set boundaries
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Is this a formal or casual mentorship? How often will you talk? What kind of information and how much are you willing to share? Set clear expectations to hash out boundaries.
12. Set expectations
To maximize these relationships, it's important to be clear about what you want to get out of it. What exactly do you want to learn from this person? My mentors include a super upbeat and hilarious peer, a retired grandmother, a powerhouse entrepreneur and an award-winning writer. They all serve different purposes in mentorship and they all know it.
13. Get tactical
Now that you've mastered the basics, it's time to get tactical and work together to put a practical plan of action in place.
With practice and a little patience, dual-generation mentorships can be valuable and fulfilling for all parties involved. Stick with it!
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The transition into adulthood isn’t an easy one. Navigating relationships, managing workplace politics, hitting those milestones on schedule— don’t be fooled, no one knows what they’re doing. There will be all kinds of fumbles, blunders and awkward missteps along the way. If you’re constantly wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” Welcome. This is just the place for you.