Mentorship: active or passive?

*To start off, we thought it would be a good idea for you to get a better sense of what mentoring is and how it will help you. Below is a little something from one of our international correspondents based in Namibia.*


Often we hear this word and use it. It is mostly related to the need for people deemed more successful to help others – perhaps younger and not as experienced and guide them to reach similar or greater strength and success.  I haven not given much thought to this word until lately.. A lot of the recent happenings in my life have caused me to take stock and look back at a few defining moments without which I would not be where I am today.  I honestly could not go down this journey without distinctly noting the value of a number of people who today I understand where my mentors.  Whether they mentored me knowing or unknowingly is not the issue, what remains true is that they held my hand and helped me navigate territory I had never walked and most certainly made it easier.  Looking back, I realised that during these defining moments, I did not actively look for a mentor.  I was just a young woman desperate to make change and contribute to my country. It got me thinking about the space a young woman would be in or have to be in to fully appreciate and utilise such a tool, in all its forms.

It got me thinking about the different dynamics at play to this over-used yet powerful tool called mentoring.  I thought about myself 4 years ago – fresh from University after completing my Masters degree. I had a great desire to make change and break into the system but just had no way of doing so. I did not know anyone, especially so being a foreigner in a beautiful Country. I desperately prayed for someone to notice me, to just have a look at what I was capable of and GIVE ME A CHANCE! I knew I had what it took and was bold enough to apply for jobs I had no business applying for. Week in week out nothing came. This ‘rejection’ began eating at my confidence and I started to think maybe there never was anything special about me and I’m just another person on the planet. I still had some fire in me though. One Friday afternoon, while perusing the newspapers, (Note:young people let us learn to invest in buying newspapers daily and read) I came across the what’s happening section. I am sceptical about calling it a section because it hardly is…It is a little about 3x5cm piece that gives a summary of what’s happening in the Country. I read it and came across an upcoming public discussion on infant industry protection.

I immediately got intrigued because I wrote my Masters thesis on the exact same topic.  Long story short I went for the event and could not keep quiet when the audience was asked to contribute.  It was at that time that a notable woman in trade related issues noticed me and was impressed with my contribution. She gave me her card and asked me to contact her in the new year.  When I did, she told me she had no post that would pay me what I deserved but if I was keen to learn she could offer me an internship..paying about K1200.. without hesitation I said Yes! I was desperate to learn and prove myself.  I joined their firm as an intern (Yes, with my degrees and all). You see I never asked for this woman to mentor me but she did. She probably still wonders how.

I became so careful of our professional relationship and grateful for the opportunity she gave me that I thought asking her to mentor me would just be too much.. So I decided to watch her and mentor myself by observing her.  I observed her and learnt all I could about trade from her, some things I think she thought I knew because I’m naturally that way (say yes and go and figure it out type of girl). She groomed and prepared me adequately for my next position even without her knowing. And so when I acknowledged her on a Ted Talk I gave, she was shocked!

I was telling this story for a reason.  Mentoring, if taken in the wrong way can be used as a crutch. It could cause one to get into a pity party and think I’m not making it because I have no one to help or notice me.. True as that may be, there are ways around it which require a mentee to be mature about things.

From my experience and writing this article, I can safely say there should be about two types of mentoring: active and passive mentoring.  Truth is sometimes you just might not get someone to mentor you, remember would be mentors are not born mentors – they are simply people who have done things differently which allowed them to achieve exceptional success and now are willing to share their story and use their experiences and contacts to guide you and help get you noticed.  So added to their daily lives, which they too are still trying to perfect, they have a mentee to think about. Should this be your case, there is hope: passive mentoring. Do some research and find people who have done well and start following their career, if they have written books or articles read them and begin to notice trends.

I remember not so long ago, I had this burning desire to meet Thuli Madonsela: I still do and hope that I will still meet her one day. I just felt I needed to meet her but I knew at present that might not be possible. For some reason during that time, there was a lot of publicity around her (this was probably because of the Nkandla saga and her subsequent end of term as Public Protector). So one day while doing some grocery shopping, I saw her on the cover of Destiny magazine which I love for obvious reasons (I still have the magazine).  I bought it and read about what Ms Madonsela was up to after leaving the PP Office. In the article, she shared some lessons she picked up during her time as PP. She spoke about how her quiet persona has helped her a lot and that there is power in silence. She illustrated it so well that it made sense to me because I was going through a period in my life where I had so much to say but it wasn’t the right time to speak. I had trouble keeping quiet because that’s not who I am but reading that, I decided to try and boy did it change a lot for me.. what am I talking about ? Passive mentoring.

You see another thing passive mentoring allows me to do is prepare. I always think to myself so what if I meet this person tomorrow? What am I going to say that will make me stand out. I literally have conversatiosn with these people in my head and should I find the conversation dragging because I lack content, I start preparing and working on it to allow me have decent conversation with this would be mentor should I ever meet them! And if I never do, well Id have improved myself in something either way.

Passive mentoring also works because I feel sometimes we expect mentors to be perfect but they are not. They too have made and will make mistakes.  The trouble with active mentoring or something to think about is that active mentoring allows you to see the person flaws and all. The closer you get and the more you interact, the more you relate on a personal level.  If one is not mature enough to see a flaw and still conduct oneself properly, it can totally destroy one and throw them off because of the lack of maturity and ability to separate issues.

Am I saying active mentoring is bad? Not at all.. Some people need someone in their face to push them. Is it the end of world if you don’t get one? Not even remotely true.  You can be mentored from afar even without having to ask and can pick as many mentors as you like, in their absentia.

So next time you think all is lost because no one will notice you, think again. You have the ability to make things take a different course for you.. trust me, I know! You never know, you still might just get the chance to still meet your dream mentor, if you take the steps! I know I will.

Yours in mentoring,

Stacey Pinto

Lecturer/Published author/Entrepreneur/Lawyer

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the University and its management (which includes editors(s) of this blog. Information on this site may contain errors or inaccuracies; we do not make warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the site’s content. If you own rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on this site, please contact us via e-mail and they will be promptly removed.

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