Open Letter to Mentors of Millennials
By now, no doubt you’ve heard all about me. You’ve heard I’m a narcissist—selfish, entitled, idealistic but often lazy. You’ve heard my patience is just about as short as my attention span. And you’ve heard—for better or for worse—that by 2025, three out of four workers worldwide will be just like me: a Millennial.
But you also can’t believe everything you hear. For this generation of professionals infiltrating industries of all kinds, passion is our native language. According to the Barna Group, 42% of Millennials say passion is the most important quality in a job—even more than a financially secure job (34%), or a job that enables them to enjoy life (23%). We’ve got the appetite to learn and the heart to dream big, and we’ve got the willpower to try. What we don’t have—or at least, what we don’t have much of—is experience. It’s a fact our superiors, HR departments, and critics won’t let us forget.
Of course, they're right. That's why we need you.
Make no mistake—we are forging our own way forward, and more likely than not, the shape of our career path won’t look like yours. But as we press on, we need your stories. We need you—mentors and coaches—to call back from farther down the road.
Call it mentoring, call it influence, call it whatever you want—but the impulse to pass down wisdom from generation to generation is a holy one, as we see throughout Scripture. And we don’t want to miss what you have to give. Here are five ways you can help show us the way.
1. Let me find you—but please make yourself available.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes in Lean In, “We need to stop telling [young women], ‘Get a mentor and you will excel.’ Instead, we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.’”
I wouldn’t ask you to invest in me unless you see something in me, so the responsibility for getting a mentor is first and foremost on myself. It’s up to me to earn your influence, and I intend to do just that.
But when I do excel, will you take notice? Will you remember what it was like to be where I am—eager to begin, uncertain of the starting line?
I’m going to give my very best. When I do, I hope you’ll meet me there.
2. Envision my future and call me into it.
From the graduation podium to helicopter parents to pop culture mantras, we’ve been told we have potential. But potential, without fulfillment, is a puff concept. Don’t tell us we have potential—tell us how you see it embodied in our vocational calling. Say, “You know, you’re really good at listening and empathizing. Have you ever thought about doing social work?” or, “The way you work with numbers, you would make an incredible engineer.”
Envision us in our future and tell us what thriving might look like. If you do, two things will happen. First, you’ll sidestep the dead end of patronization. And second, if you treat us like we are already our best future selves, we’ll believe you—and we’ll start acting like it.
3. Push me.
Handholding is not mentoring. Exclusively positive feedback is neither flattering nor fruitful. We will fail, we will get ahead of ourselves, and we will fall behind. So please, illuminate our blind spots. Introduce us to our weaknesses, and keep us in check when we start to think too highly or too lowly of ourselves.
The truth is, I want more than to simply fulfill a job’s basic requirements. I want to make it a constant ambition to surpass myself—both personally and professionally. But I can’t self-start the momentum required to do that. That advent of motion must come from an outside force, which means your push might be one of my greatest gifts.
4. Show me how to practice “long obedience in the same direction.”
If I wanted quick tips and how-to’s, I’d Google it. But I’m not interested in hacking my way up the career ladder. I’m interested in work that brings meaning into the world. That kind of work requires a slow, honest, hard-won ascent. I’m interested in “long obedience in the same direction,” as Friedrich Nietzsche said and Eugene Peterson commonly teaches.
Please don’t assume I want life-hacks. Legacy is what I’m after. And I need the right influences—that’s you—to make the right choices along the way.
5. Don’t expect me to call you my mentor.
You might be my boss, my co-worker, an industry contact, a friend, or a fellow collaborator, but the word “mentor” might never pass between us.
Why? First, because we don’t need to define the relationship. We don’t have to meet for coffee every Thursday at 2 p.m. You don’t have to call us on our birthday or drill us on career goals. Sometimes, we just want to know what you think.
Second, we don’t want a lone mentor. We prefer a mosaic of influencers. What was the apprenticeship of one is now the intellect, skill, and moral acquisition of many. We are intentional about having this canon of voices. So we probably won’t call you our mentor, but only because what you are to us is in fact so much bigger.
As I’ve said, you’ve heard all about me. But with your help—a loving influence from farther down the road—we can change what they say.
Stephanie S. Smith is a writer and editor addicted to print and pixels. She will soon be starting her new role as associate acquisitions editor at Zondervan, and has many mentors to thank for their generous guidance and support along all the twists and turns of her own career path. Stephanie can be found tweeting at @stephindialogue.
Show Me the Way
The BusinessWeek article The Misery of Mentoring Millenials suggests that “For a new generation of workers, the idea of seeking out a single career confidant is…old-fashioned.” Perhaps this represents more of a shift from single mentorship to communal mentorship than it is a shirking of wisdom altogether. In this series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, we're addressing this topic as well as the broader meaning of the phrase. Join us for Bible reflections, featured articles, and discussion. Invite your colleagues to do the same. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.