By Callie Lehman – Student Contributor
“A mentor can be a wonderful example or a horrible warning.” There could not be more truth to this statement. The term mentor is usually associated with characteristics such as: insightful, role model, teacher, and advisor. But what about those times when mentors come up short by being unprepared, distant, or leaving you feeling dissatisfied or disappointed? Surprisingly, these “bad” mentor experiences can be much more beneficial than one thinks.
Getting paired with a “bad” mentor is never intentional. In fact, most bad mentoring experiences are not the result of a bad mentor but the result of a bad situation or a bad fit. Often, a bad mentor to one person is a blessing to another. Either way it is important for a protégé to take ownership of getting what she can out of a relationship. Mentoring, whether good or bad, is a learning experience for both the mentor and protégé. Determining what not to do can be an excellent learning tool. Sometimes the best learning opportunities are recognizing what you do not want to do. Once you figure out everything you do not want to do, it is easier to focus on being the attorney (and person) you want to be. If you ever find yourself frustrated with your mentor, ask yourself: “what can I learn from this?” Upon reflection, you may be learning more than you think.
Consider this example: this past semester, a student went to observe her mentor in court. This student was extremely excited to watch her mentor in action. Unfortunately the experience did not go well for the attorney. He made some key mistakes and did not seem effective. After witnessing a poor performance by her “mentor,” this student asked herself, “Why should I invest in a mentor like this?” The temptation is to walk away. But upon further reflection the student realized that she was learning from the situation.
This student ended up learning some great lessons from her mentor that will help advance her legal career. First, she gained a whole new understanding of what level of preparation is necessary to succeed in the profession. She learned some practical organizational tips to ensure better performance under pressure. Lastly, and most importantly, she got to better understand the interpersonal dynamics at play in the courtroom. Although all of these lessons seem like common sense, the student received the gift of learning from her mentor’s mistakes. Learning from a difficult experience is not the best part of each mentor relationship but it is a part. No mentor is perfect and each mentor will make mistakes. The key is what you as the protégé choose to make of the difficult times. In this case the student and her mentor have gone on to build a very good relationship. Both of them learned a lot from that first bad experience. By being reflective about learning from the one bad experience the student ultimately built a great overall experience.