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How to be a Good Mentee to a Mentor

February 2nd, 2015 No comments

This week I was discussing with a friend the importance of mentors for your own work. Someone who has experience of whatever it is you are trying to do, who can be a good source of knowledge for the progress of your work. To whom you can ask questions.

But how the hell do you find such a useful person? Who actually wants to be a mentor?

I think you just write to people and see who responds. Because I was thinking that if someone asked, I would like to be a mentor. It’s flattering for someone to think you have knowledge to impart. (Whether I do or not is not up to me to know.)

But although I haven’t been a mentor myself, I’ve been around other mentors. And I’ve seen some v. bad mentees. As in mentees who ensure their mentor would never be a mentor again.

So here’s my suggestions for how to be a good mentee:

  1. Be self-reliant. Don’t expect being a mentee to mean sitting around watching your mentor work and waiting to be asked to do something. That’s school work experience, and this is not the same thing. A bored person in the corner induces anxiety in mentors. Mentors are not wanting anxiety from the relationship.
  2. Propose a schedule for your interactions with your mentor. Make it as easy on them as you can. Do not propose, ‘I would like to come and shadow you work for three months from next Monday. I am vegetarian.’
  3. Keep religiously to the schedule you devise. Be ultra reliable. Be more reliable than on a first date.
  4. Don’t act as though your mentor is a parent and needs to worry about you. Act as though you’re working with them and as though you are there to help if you can.
  5. Take your own work with you that you can get on with when your mentor needs to work on something alone.
  6. Set out in your opening email/letter to your mentor how you are going to do all these things.

10 Pieces of Careers Advice to My Younger Self

December 11th, 2012 4 comments

1. The majority of career jobs do not involve work or goals you intrinsically value

Traditional careers advice tells you that a full-time career is the one essential source of valuable work, and that valuable work is the source of self-esteem in life. But the majority of career jobs are work towards goals that you do not personally value. Self-esteem does come from valuable work – but only very rarely does this work begin within a career.

2. The rewards of rewarding jobs are suffocated by the stress of a full-time career

Medicine, teaching and working for a charity are all worthy professions with rewarding goals. But these rewards are so submerged beneath overwork and work politics in a full-time career as to make the rewards almost imperceptible.

3. The pleasure of creative work is not found in a ‘creative’ career

Most careers in the ‘creative industries’ are not creative, but administrative. And the positions in these industries that do require creativity do not want ideas that stem from your own personal interests – they require ideas to sell their clients’ products or find the largest audience. This is a wholly different different creativity from taking pleasure in your own creative ideas.

4. A full-time career does not give you control of your life, it takes control away

When you place high value on your career, for both your income and self-esteem, you hand your employer control of your life: control of your time, your ambitions, and your respect for yourself. For fear of losing that hard-fought-for career, you allow yourself to be treated in ways you would not put up with in your personal life.

5. Earning money is less important than your own creative work

The work you do to earn money for rent and food does not need to fulfil you, or be the source of your self-esteem. The real source of self-esteem is work you have originated yourself, not (at least at first) for money. The purpose of work for money is to support the discovery and pursuit of your own creative work, the work that you do find fulfilling.

6. Learn to live cheaply

If you avoid a career you will almost certainly, at least to begin with, need to live on less money than your careerist peers. But you need  less money to treat and entertain yourself when you can spend a significant number of hours a week taking pleasure from your own creative work.

7. Genuine self-esteem comes from pleasure in your own creative ideas

Everyone can be creative. Just because you were not labelled arty at school means nothing. Creative ideas are not limited to the traditional arts, they are found in the setting up of charity, in science, in anything. What would you do if money was no object? Creative work begins by copying your heroes. Everyone who does creative work feels like an imposter until they recognise the progress they make.

8. University or college is not essential

The valuable experiences you have at university – living with your peers, meeting interesting people, further study – can be found elsewhere where they will not leave you with enormous debts. University can be fantastic, but is only essential for a degree in order to get that career job. And if you do want to go, there is nothing that says you have to go straight from school, or after a gap of only a year. Do the minimum number of exams you need for college to leave the option open. And exams can always be retaken.

9. Define your own success

Success need not be measured by the size of your impact upon the world, by how famous you become. Success also comes from the satisfaction of personal, truly valuable goals, even if they affect only a small number of people. Many people who feel successful are invisible in society.

10. A career can wait, perhaps forever

Don’t aim for a full-time career straight from school or university. Find paid work that best supports your discovery of the work you really want to do, that you would do without expectation of money. If you do later come to have a career, let it follow from this valuable work. But it may be that you never have a career at all. This is the life of the happiest people I know.

Read the full essay: Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: How Can Work Make You Happy?

Steps to Escaping Your Full-Time Job

September 11th, 2012 No comments

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a reader of this blog, who asked what advice I had for someone who wanted to give up their full-time career. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to think that the posts here have been some kind of encouragement for this. For semi-retirement is not just advice for teenagers starting out in the world of work – anyone can chuck in full-time work at any stage of their life.

This post is an extended version of my reply.

Before you go ahead and take the glorious step of telling your boss that you’re leaving, it’s a good idea to have put a few things in place. Here’s my suggestions:

Start investigating the creative work for which you have a passion

Do this whilst you are still in your full-time job. Assign to it as many hours as you currently have free, and be disciplined in how you work. (You will need your discipline later, for no one tells you to get on with your creative work.) This is the most important thing to do – if you have an idea of the direction of your creative work when you do hand in your notice, you stand less chance of feeling lost.

Reduce your current expenses

You will soon be living on part-time wages and you need to understand how you are going to do this. If you have a partner or children you will need to discuss with them why you will have less money in the future. (I have explained to my children on a number of occasions that the flipside of not having as much money spent on them as their friends is that I get to spend more time with them. They don’t understand the argument. But they do like me spending more time with them.)

Reducing your expenses is easier than it looks. And when you have creative work that brings you pleasure you find you have less need of stuff that costs money. Creative work gives you a different feeling of status from the one that you take from stuff, but a feeling of status all the same. People admire the choice to control your own time, to live in a way that they view as insecure. (So long as you are working on your projects and not just watching daytime TV.)

Investigate how you will work part-time

It may be possible to work part-time hours at your current job, hours that give you the time you need for your creative work. But if your employer will not allow this, see if you can use the skills you have picked up in your job to work freelance. It may be that you do just a small amount of freelance work to begin with, that you need to supplement with other part-time subsistence work.

If freelance work is not possible, look for other part-time work. Remember it does not have to fulfil you or give your life meaning. It is subsistence work to support your creative work.

Find other semi-retirees for support

You need to associate with like-minded people, either who are interested in the same creative work or who simply understand your reasons for doing what you are doing. I rented a desk space in an artists studio, and these people have become my main inspiration and support. Associating with other semi-retirees who have an interest in living cheaply has the added side-effect of helping you spend less money.

If you have made steps towards these – go tell your boss that you’re leaving…