mentor vs non-mentor

How to Identify a Non-Mentor

The below was written in response to Tobias van Schneider’s post, Ignore Everybody.


Over the years I’ve had some incredible mentors and recently found myself with a big idea in-hand without a mentor in sight. This concerned me enough to produce a sort of radar, so that when I attend workshops or meet new people, my subconscious is always on the lookout for the next guiding light.

I like to run lots of reconnaissance missions prior to embarking on any journey, and thus I start my research early. Sometimes too early. But I’m an eager, ambitious gal who has been known to jump too soon. This is my way of scratching the itch of progress, and ultimately gathering intel to inform next steps (even if they only get me a few millimeters ahead).

I connected with a big thinker a couple weeks back, primarily because he (potentially) had the qualities I was looking for in my next mentor. I walked him through the long-tail version of my big idea and listened as he gave two types of advice:

  1. Do more of the things I’ve already tested and learned to be too soon, and keep dong them regardless of readiness.
  2. Incessantly advocating for a bootstrap approach while adamantly discouraging the help of others (financial or otherwise).

If the conversation were videotaped, I’m sure my body language would have revealed how conflicted I felt throughout this conversation. My positive, hopeful expectations were let down. Small parts of me second-guessed certain choices while others stayed true, statuesque to the monument of the big idea in my head.

For all the “do it anyway” bits of advice, I’ve come to know myself very well. I know I take on too much and have trouble nurturing one thing at a time. (I’m trying this today and doing fairly well at it for once.) Yes I can multitask, yes I teach the values of failing fast, and yes I could build another part of my repertoire before the idea is fully baked. Yet the recon missions have taught me great things, things that are meaningful to ME. They weren’t meaningful to him, though.

The constant push and sale of bootstrapping from nothing, and seeking help only from “people who won’t want a piece of your pie” led me to break the conversation harshly.

“No, I will not take on debt or try to do this alone or do this with friends. I’m looking forward to working with ‘strangers’ because I’ve experienced the wrath of business and personal lives colliding first hand.”

He backpedaled a bit as I brought the conversation to an end. It was time.

When I came home from the meeting, my husband asked how it went.

“You know how Lean methods teach us to test with non-customers as much as actual customers? Well, it works up the chain as well. This was a non-mentor. Not that his opinions or ideas were wrong, I just recognize that they are wrong for me. If I gained anything from that meeting it’s that I’m more confident in my approach than I was before.”

It’s great to get other opinions. It’s even better when you know with 100% certainty it’s time to ignore them.


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