Naomi Lucas | Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense

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By all means, take advice, listen, be open-minded, be curious, experiment, but remember, you are the ultimate decision-making authority in your life.

I needed mentorship. That’s what I told myself. I had walked away from my job at the time and knew I wasn’t going back to corporate Nigeria anytime in the foreseeable future. I had an idea I wanted to implement and thought it would be nice to sound it out with someone who had more experience. I applied for a mentorship program and got selected for the next cohort. We were onboarded and assigned mentors. I looked up my mentor and was awed by what I found online. Her PR was good. She was just what I needed. That’s what I told myself. 

My first meeting was at her office. The space was elegantly put together and solidified my perception of the woman I was about to meet. I was happy. 
She asked what my goals were. I told her about leaving my job and gave her a summary of the back story. I had only begun to share my thoughts about what I wanted to do when she interrupted me. What you need is a job! Send me your CV and I’ll see what I can do for you. 
I was shocked but recovered quickly. Okay, I said. 
How much was your last salary? 
I told her.
What? She looked stunned. I blame all these big big companies for spoiling you people!
I struggled to process what she had just said. The onslaught just seemed too much for a first meeting. 
Someone who didn’t know me, was just meeting me for the first time, had not had a chance to even look at my CV, sat in a chair and decided that someone somewhere had paid too much for my services. 
The whole encounter – start to finish, lasted less than 20 minutes. 
I was underwhelmed. 

I had walked in with a lot of confidence. I left with so many doubts. I questioned myself all the way home and arrived in deep confusion. Did I need a job? Was I really good at what I did or was I just lucky? Was my salary really that outrageous? Was entrepreneurship really for me? I agonized to no end. 

By our third meeting, I realized what I had gotten myself into. My mentor was running a plantation, not a business. The atmosphere was one filled with fear. Everyone’s most important mission was to avoid any sort of direct confrontation with her. If she was aware of concepts such as love, empathy, dignity, respect or even basic civility, it didn’t seem she had the capacity to extend it to anyone including herself. She was acerbic, tone deaf, manipulative, entitled, condescending, intolerant, toxic, proud and easily triggered. She treated the people around her poorly and showed no remorse for her actions. To put it simply, the company’s biggest bully was its founder. She was broken through and through and from my assessment was in no physical or mental state to occupy any position of authority or provide any sort of leadership to anyone. Thankfully, because I was not under her direct influence per se, it was easy for me to remove myself from the environment when I sensed things were on the verge of escalation. 

It all came to a head, at least for me, at an event out of town. Standing a short distance away, I watched another ‘episode’ play out. As she began to publicly, dramatically unravel, it occurred to me that she was the exact prototype of the kind of human being I never wanted to become. And I knew in my heart that if I continued to situate myself in her space, she would bring out my base instincts. I wanted better for and expected more from myself. There and then, I mentally ended the relationship. 

I avoided further contact till the mentorship program came to an end. The organizers sent a feedback form. I had two options, give nothing away – you know, just thank them for the opportunity and leave the rest for God as we Nigerians like to say, or tell the truth. I chose the latter. Let me tell you why. You see, my thought process is as independent as independent comes. Before I agree or believe anything I hear, watch or am told, I must unpack it and put it back together in a way that makes sense to me. I developed this skill as a survival mechanism at a time when my continued existence and sanity as a human being depended on it. So, It doesn’t matter who or where information is coming from – Government, Pastor, Friend, Sibling, Spouse, Media, as long as it is directed at me, I will pick it like beans – to determine what goes in the pantry , what goes on the fire and what goes in the bin. I was afraid for the impressionable young girls who would be thrown this woman’s way and the outcome of their sustained exposure to such a person. 

I don’t know what it was about what I said or how I said it but to their credit, the organization believed me. Emails, phone calls, requests for meetings, text messages…they wanted to get to the root of the matter. They apologized profusely and asked if they could assign another mentor to me. I told them I would consider the request after I recovered from the PTSD caused by my last experience.

For those who are keen on mentorship, here are some tips to help you get the best out of your experience:
1. Know yourself: Be clear about who you are and who you are not. What you can do and what you can’t. Your passion, interests and aspirations. The mentor is meant to help sharpen your sense of direction, not tell you where to go. 
2. Change your mindset: We have a warped understanding of how mentorship should work in these parts where one person knows most things and the other is clueless. And based on this, the relationship is essentially a favour granted the latter by the former. This should not be the case. Come to the table with some value. 
3. Be clear about your goals: Know what you want to achieve before engaging a mentor. There is nothing as frustrating as a confused mentee. It can be extremely draining for the mentor. You will get where you want to go faster if you can hit the ground running from day one. 
4. Determine the purpose of the relationship: If it’s a formal relationship avoid burdening the mentor with your personal issues. Your mentor is not your friend or confidante though both are desirable byproducts. Respect boundaries.
5. Start from where you are: When we think of mentorship, we think older, wiser, richer, connected, more exposed. Some of us are so busy envying and competing with our peers, we completely lose sight of the fact we are surrounded by subject matter expertise. Just look around you, you have friends in finance, maritime, tech, business, development. There’s so much they can teach you if you will only ask. Leverage your access. Start with what is within reach. 
6. Life is learning. As far as this side of the river is concerned, we are all first-timers changing the tire as the car is moving. Given, there are those who have gone before, and we shouldn’t discountenance their experience, but nobody has a manual for this journey. We are all winging it. 
7. You decide: By all means, take advice, listen, be open-minded, be curious, experiment, but remember, you are the ultimate decision-making authority in your life. Don’t hand over that power to anyone else. 

Happy mentorship!

This article was originally published by Naomi Lucas on Facebook. Article republished based on permission by the author.

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