Please, let me be myself

I’ve written before about the importance of being a mentor and and I’m proud to say that one of my mentees recently wrote a good educational piece on tips for a successful mentorship. But recently I’ve had more than one friend ask me not about mentoring per se, but how to help a mentor let go.

Firsthand experience as a parent and a mentor has taught me that it’s easy to get trapped into smothering someone when all you want is to protect them from harm and then help them succeed to heights greater than those you have achieved. Unfortunately, as time goes by, you lose track of how much your kids have matured or how much your mentee has grown as a professional. You see things from the inside looking out — from a place where you notice from time to time how the person you’re looking out for has changed. But from the outside looking in, other people see a child or a young professional who is blossoming and ready to burst open, sharing their beauty and brilliance with the world. The trouble is, you may be standing in their way and need to remove your shadow, letting the sun shine directly upon them.

If you do not learn this lesson the easy way, by realizing for yourself that it’s time to let your child or your mentee venture forth on their own, you might end up learning it the hard way. With kids, that’s often through rebellious acts that make you wonder what happened to the small, innocent person you’ve been trying to protect all these years. And for that young professional in your life, it might suddenly seem that they aren’t asking for help and advice as often as you are dishing it out.

As a mentor, you might at first start to resent this lack of interest in your experience and your advice, thinking that the young person is starting to get a big head about their abilities. But if you find yourself going there, take a step back and look at your relationship from the outside in. Is it really that your mentee is getting too big for their britches and doesn’t appreciate you anymore? Or is that you, as a mentor, don’t want to admit that your work is done and it’s time to let that young professional be just a professional in their own right?

Great mentoring relationships can often turn into great friendships. It is sometimes difficult to accept that transition, because it means that young person you’ve been protecting, guiding and helping is suddenly speaking to you more as an equal. They have grown because as a young professional that’s what they do, naturally and with a quickening pace. But you, as a more experienced and older professional, may find that your growth has slowed. So, you take solace in knowing that while your career isn’t expanding rapidly anymore, you can at least help someone by finding them a job or “putting in a good word” for them when you hear they’ve applied someplace.

The trouble is that most mentoring relationships, and parenting relationships, will reach a point that your trying to help isn’t really helping at all, and in some ways may be hurting. As the father of two teenage girls, I’ve had to face the facts lately that my days of protecting and caring for them are far from over, but that my ability to take care of them completely are coming to a close. They are going to be reaching new plateaus in their development as people and, soon, as young professionals. I hope they find a mentor who can take over for them where I’ve left off and help guide them for a while as they start to chart the unsteady course of a career.

I also hope, however, that the mentor they find will realize that their role will change over time, as well. The letter of reference a young professional once needed from you might not help a few years later. And, certainly, unsolicited contact from a parent or a mentor to a potential employer is a recipe for trouble. The employer could wonder why this young professional, whom they are considering handing over great responsibility to, is still being protected by someone. How will they handle the stress of the job they are being considered for if they can’t even get through the interview process unassisted?

So what’s a parent or mentor to do? You are to take that seedling you first meet, water and feed them and let the sun shine upon them in doses so they grow strong but not so quickly that their stalk breaks before they are ready for their flower to enter full bloom. And when you finally see that tiny bud ready to burst forth and embrace the sunlight and all the world has to offer, you need to get your shadow out of the way. You need to let them be seen for the person and professional they are. And on those days when it rains, you can always return, offering the comfort of your shadow until the sun burns brightly again. Basically, you can be their friend but, as the band 3 Doors Down sings, you can let them be themselves…

I guess i just got lost
Bein’ someone else
I tried to kill the pain
Nothin ever helped
I left myself behind
Somewhere along the way
Hopin to come back around
To find myself someday

Lately i’m so tired of waiting for you
To say that it’s ok, but tell me
Please, would you one time
Just let me be myself
So i can shine with my own light
Let me be myself
Would you let me be myself

I’ll never find my heart
Behind someone else
I’ll never see the light of day
Living in this cell
It’s time to make my way
Into the world i knew
Take back all of these times
That i gave in to you

Lately i’m so tired of waiting for you
To say that it’s ok, but tell me
Please, would you one time
Let me be myself
So i can shine with my own light
And let me be myself
For a while, if you don’t mind
Let me be myself
So i can shine with my own light
Let me be myself

That’s all i’ve ever wanted from this world
Is to let me be me

Image courtesy of; lyrics courtesy of 3 Doors Down.

4 comments on “Please, let me be myself

  1. Thank you for this article, Ari. This is so timely for me!

    I have recently been feeling those growing pains of the mentor-mentee relationship, having the mentor not realize they need to let go — that even just re-stating directions can be experienced as a signal of non-confidence. Looking from the other view, I realize why my son has often said, “I’m not an idiot,” at something I’ve said that I think is just an innocuous comment.


    • Thanks for reading and for the comment Melinda. It’s never an easy conversation to have with a mentor when it’s time for the relationship to change, but it is necessary. And your comment about your son made me laugh, because I think all parents end up saying something innocuous and having the kids take it the wrong way. Come to think of it, that happens with spouses, too. 🙂


  2. Ari, this was a great read and a good reminder for me. I’m probably one of those mentors who should let go sooner. There is a part of me that definitely wants to be there with those I’m guiding every step of the way. It’s not that I don’t trust them to do it, I just love the process so much I’m living vicariously through them. Your words hit home. Thank you… Lisa


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