Peer mentorship with contemporaries
Issue 115: Maximizing an under-utilized form of mentorship
Mentorship is critical in your life, professionally and personally. Mentors and mentoring has a profound impact on my career. I owe so much to the incredible wisdom and guidance of the incredible people in my life. However, the act of mentoring and mentorship can be a loaded term these days. In one aspect, my mentors have been the sparks and foundation guiding me. On the flip side, there are people on TikTok who hardly know how to design charging mentorship sessions to exploit people seeking a way to break into a profession—looking more like an MLM scam. Instead of formulating a generic hot take (that’s what Design Twitter is for), I’ll cover some of the problematic attributes I see and offer a complementary mentorship experience—peer mentorship
Problematic attributes of mentorship
Sadly, there are a lot of people who mentor and coach who aren’t trained for it. People early in their careers may not know the difference resulting in bad experiences. There are different ways to find mentorship: online communities, in the work setting, networking, etc. Here are a few things to look out for when mentoring or being mentored to avoid.
Deep mentorship shouldn’t feel like speed dating. It requires more investment than a social event. To be clear, there are wonderful communities that help people who don’t have access to mentorship get a connection. My point is it’s the first step and needs to go beyond that.
As Obi-Wan Kenobi says in Star Wars, "Who is more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?" There are a lot of people advising and mentoring out there who hardly have the experience to do so. For someone new and looking for guidance, it can be difficult to evaluate your mentors. This doesn’t mean you have to be an elder in the industry to mentor, but it’s important to that any advice passed on has high-quality substance and depth.
Weird power dynamics and seniority
Obsessing over having protégés is a bit strange1. Great mentorship should not be focused on the power dynamic of mentor/protégé. My mentors treat me as an equal despite them having light years of more wisdom and experience than me. Avoid mentors who have a fixation with the power dynamic—people who focus on those they’re mentoring in service of themselves.
Great mentorship focuses on relationships
The definition of a mentor (Merriam-Webster version): a trusted counselor or guide. I love this definition as there is no indication of age, hierarchy, or power. At the foundation, mentorship is a relationship focused on counsel, advisory, and guidance. Mentor relationships are usually conveyed as a linear hierarchy but they look more like connective graphs.
The power of peer mentorship
I recently watched the documentary about The Redeem Team—the 2008 USA Basketball team that re-captured the gold medal after failing to win it in 2004. The roster was constructed of rising stars with a few veterans on the team: Jason Kidd, Tayshaun Prince, and Kobe Bryant—stars who are descending the mountain of their career arcs. This mix of contemporaries with elderly wisdom was one of the core ingredients in the team’s success. The documentary captures a lot of Kobe's influence on the team and how his competitiveness and work ethic set the tone for the younger players. This resulted in the elevation of everyone’s growth.
Many years later, a photo emerged of Dwayne Wade, Gabrielle Union (Wade's wife), LeBron James, and Chris Paul vibing it up on a banana boat during vacation. They would be nicknamed "The Banana Boat Team".
Carmelo Anthony (not pictured) is also part of the crew—a group of friends who built their brotherhood and fellowship during the 2008 Olympics. When you have mentorship relationships with peers and contemporaries, it maximizes learning from each other instead of it feeling competitive. Play the long game and learn as much as you can from each other to push excellence forward.
We might be occupied looking for mentorship from above with the elders who formed an entire generation or have the desire to give back and start mentoring a new generation but what we really need is contemporary to learn from. Perhaps we’re so hungry to give back that we focus on mentoring others without filling our own cup of growth and ambition. As you look up and down, don’t forget to look across and next to you at the contemporaries who can maximize your growth. I guarantee you'll get as much (if not more) value with someone going through what you're going through vs. someone who experienced it two decades ago without the same situational empathy anymore.
Grow and elevate with your peers
Mentorship is crucial to passing knowledge, wisdom, and empowerment to the next generation. However, it's not the quantity of it, but the quality; that is worth being passed along. Perhaps we need to stop being infatuated with self-serving mentorship and get on the banana boat with our contemporaries in order to prepare for generational change.
I'm changing the format a bit of this newsletter to include a personal recap. What you can expect is a big topic I write about (just as above) and share a personal update on some things I'm up to. It’s very fitting that a big aspect of my week was connecting with peers.
I had the pleasure of filling my cup with some wonderful contemporaries at the GV Design Exec retreat. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to catch up with my mentor—very grateful for the invitation and hospitality.
Designers in Design/Dev Tools
In April I hosted a small dinner with a group of people who work in design and dev tools. What happened as something organic and is about work, but removed from daily work, has become a very special community.
The team is working hard to prep for Webflow Conf and think people will be really excited. Check out this message from Webflow's CEO. Hope to see you there either in person or virtual!
Tweet of the week
The word “mentee” always bothers me as protégé is the technical term, but protégé also feels irrelevant today
Broncos Country, let's ride...also, way to rip off Raider Nation