We all want our lives to go the way we plan. It seldom does though. The same is true for mentor relationships. We go into the relationship with our idea of what it should look like and how it should proceed. Sometimes, though, we have to be ready to adjust our plan and deal with the unexpected.
In a perfect world every meeting would go off as scheduled. Lawyers seldom live in that world. Clients have emergencies; court appearances need to be covered, to say nothing of the ordinary life hassles that befall all of us from time to time like. Students are understandably frustrated when a mentor has to reschedule a meeting. Sometimes, though, they misinterpret the scheduling problems to be a sign that the mentor does not care. That can be compounded if the mentor has to reschedule multiple times. From a protégé perspective, it is crucial to understand the realities of the mentor’s world and to accept the mentor’s explanation for the re-scheduling.
Sometimes the mentor assigned in a formal program does not match your vision of what she should be. Perhaps she has different politics than yours. Maybe she uses language you wouldn’t personally choose. She may be overtly religious while you are not. It is easy to be thrown by these differences especially early in the relationship. It can be tempting to seek the easy way out by asking for a new mentor or refusing to invest in the relationship. However, adjusting to the unexpected can yield unexpected benefits. Most of life is about working effectively with people. That includes people who are different than we are. What better practice than in a mentor relationship? Indeed, your mentor is also role-modeling dealing with the differences in how she interacts with you.
Other Unexpected Changes
After supervising thousands of mentor relationships in the past five years one thing is certain, there will always be changes. Mentors and students change jobs or areas of interest. Mentors and students’ family circumstances change. Every change alters our plan for how the relationship should look going forward, but every change is also an opportunity. For example, one year a mentor changed firms in the middle of the year. Rather than asking for a new mentor, the student decided to take advantage of the unexpected. He and his mentor met three times over the month his mentor moved and discussed how lawyers change firms. The student ended up with valuable information and a lesson in professionalism from a mentor who handled a job change right. The mentor commented to me afterward about what a good experience he had working with the student.
The bottom line with mentor relationships is that adaptation matters. Adjust to the unexpected and you may get even more out of your mentor relationship than you originally planned.