Learning to Fly
When I was younger I was able to build very deep friendships with a select few. I never had many friends, but I had very deep long lasting friendships with sometimes surprising people. I never went with people who obviously were like me. Most of them were quite different. And this is even the case today. I have the 6 ft 7 friend who barely can keep a job and has an angry nature, but is the most soft hearted and reliable man with the most amazing brain I have ever met. I have my gay friend who loves science fiction as much as I do. People that I like, that I can have clever conversations with, and with whom life just does not get boring.
I still have certain criteria of people that I want to be friends with. Most of them tend to be male. Most of them tend to be significantly older than me. I always enjoyed well balanced conversations that challenge my thought process and provoke debates. I like to make life a learning experience. I simply do not like to settle.
It is therefore not suprising that I always have been able to find good mentors in my work environment. When I applied for a trainee job at an old automotive manufacturer I had the weirdest interview. It was meant as the first of a series of interviews; 3 in total, but things went differently. The interviewer was 30 years older than me and looked at my resume not really asking any difficult questions. He immediately switched to English as I had stated in my resume that I was a fluent speaker. I satisfied his curiosity and was able to prove to him that I indeed could speak English.
He also asked me the forebidden question: “How about kids?” To which I started laughing and said: “I just turned 24, I have other things on my mind.” He then proceeded to ask about my potential start date; which I had listed as January 1st. It was mid-November and I was just trying to be reasonable with the timing and honestly had plans to also relax a little after my thesis review which was scheduled for November 18th. He looked at me with suspicion and then just blatently stated: “You will start in December. What do you want to do with that time anyways, go on vacation?” To which I did not respond much, but apparently I was hired. Just like that. He also asked me how much money I wanted. I replied. And he said: “Perfect”. I must have picked a very low number.
He proceeded to tell me that the trainee program was not for me and recommended me considering a direct hire job. “Where do you want to work?” And I answered: “Product Development”. And that was it; the interview. One meeting instead of three. Two weeks later I started and this interviewer became my new boss.
He took a lot of time to teach me the ropes of working for a manufacturing organization. How to handle customers, how to deal with upper managment (he was Director), and how to summarize test results in a reasonable fashion, so that decisions can be made. I learned a lot from him and I was very sad when our ways parted and I moved to a new country.
Since then I had a few people who called themselves mentors, but never really got a lot out of it. I generally need to feel my mentor is mentally advanced and actually has advice to offer. Where else would the word mentor come from if not from the latin word mens (mind)? So, having a working brain is a very important character and mental trait for a mentor. I also need to feel a certain amount of chemistry between the two of us and admiration. Again, in order for a relationship to function I need to want to spend time with that person and need to feel comfortable talking to him or her.
My last mentor was awesome and although he never really taught me the functionality of the job, he taught me a lot more on how to navigate a large global organization with the interactions, necessary communication links, and how to handle meetings. He is only 10 years older than me, but a successful person in his job. He gave me the courage to pursue my ideas and to go against the grain when necessary. As any good mentorship the mentorship needed to end after a certain amount of time. Mentorship is like a relationship, if the interactions become too work intense, time too difficult to find, or simply the objectives have been achieved, you need to find a break. You never want to become a burden or an annoyance.
Also, in good mentorships the lines between what is a true friendship or just still mentoring are easily becoming blurry. In the instance of my last mentor, I started enjoying personal discussions a lot more than work related ones. But I did not feel he was making the same leap and stayed a lot more guarded when it came to his own life. So, I decided to call an end to the official part of the relationship over a glass of wine. It was sad. However, he had helped me to achieve something remarkable in my current job. I needed to find a way to learn how to use my own wings and fly for a while. To see if I could survive on my own. Without the net he provided.
But I think the parting of ways is always somewhat sad. Leaving things and people behind is scary. Change is scary. It is now up to me to fill the void. Finding someone new to have meaningful conversations with or to embrace a new hobby? A new goal?
Let the search begin!