Working in the tech industry as a software engineer at Netflix is an experience unlike any other. The rules that apply in traditional corporate environments don’t all apply here and if you don’t have a foundational understanding of how to navigate this environment, it’s tough to be successful without some sort of guidance from someone already there.
We elegantly aged Millennials are in an interesting position. We’re immersed in a work culture so drastically different from that of our parents' generation, with challenges that didn’t exist when they were our age. Because I was left to figure things out on my own, I struggled to find direction early on in my career. I jumped into the workforce without knowing anything about it or anyone that had done this type of work. What I needed then was HELP, and that’s why I’m so passionate about mentoring and why I make myself available as much as possible to people that are looking for guidance.
This means I usually end up with more than one mentee at any given time, which can be a lot to manage with a full-time job, a family, and any other interests you may have. So how do you balance it? I can’t say I’ve mastered it, but I’ll share a few things I’ve found to be helpful.
Make your mentees a priority
Everything important to you in life is something for which you MAKE time, as opposed to FINDING time. So if mentoring isn’t important to you, don’t agree to do it. A good mentoring relationship is like any other relationship between two people: it takes a good deal of time and effort to establish and cultivate. And like anything else that requires a lot of work, it will only be successful if you’re genuinely invested in it. Be realistic about what you can commit to and build non-negotiable time into your schedule to invest in your mentees.
Along those same lines, you might not have time to take on multiple mentees. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I would set time aside for everyone I met if I could, but the reality is there’s only so much time in a day, and work and family demand a large chunk of that. Learn to say no. Some mentees require more time than others, but you should be very clear about the amount of time you can dedicate to your mentees. Apps like Calendly are great because they allow you to designate when and for how long people can set up meetings, you can specify meeting types and reserve access to specific time slots for specific people so you’re prepared and can make the most of the time you have with your mentee.
Be a consultant and not a foreman
A good consultant will assess your current situation and guide you through several possible solutions based on their past experiences. What you ultimately do and how you do it is up to you and that consultant most likely won’t play an active part in that. A foreman is a permanent fixture that’s expecting specific tasks and outcomes and will supervise you to make sure you do it exactly as expected. One fundamental misunderstanding about mentorship is that your job is instructing a mentee on how to achieve a goal. We are all unique individuals and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa. As a mentor, your role should be to provide guidance and perspective by sharing your experiences and making sure your mentees have as much context as possible to make the best decision for themselves. Giving your mentees space to reflect on your discussions, make and execute their plans allows them to grow, but also doesn’t consume as much of your energy as trying to make sure they’re doing things the way you would do them.
Take care of yourself
A good mentoring relationship will no doubt result in your mentee leaning on you for emotional support at times. Sharing that burden with your mentee can begin to impact your mental and emotional health, especially if you have this type of relationship with several individuals. You’re no good to anyone if you’re not in a good space yourself, so make sure you take time to recharge. If you need to skip a meeting, check in to make sure there are no emergencies, but then take the time you need.
The greatest joy in mentoring is getting to watch someone achieve their goals and being able to celebrate their accomplishments with them. But I’d be lying if I said it was easy or that I’ve even got it completely figured out myself. Learning to manage multiple mentee relationships means I can have more of an impact, so for me, it’s worth the effort.