Sunday, 4 March 2007

"Rejected Mentors" published March 4

There are people I live in awe of. They’re people who teach me things about myself, who inspire me to be a better person, encourage me to take a few risks, and generally create a career I think is worth having. I listen in awe, hanging on their every word and never once questioning their authority or knowledge, because there’s still stuff I need to learn, even at my age. It’s called having a mentor and to my mind no one should ever be without a couple tucked in their back pocket for various musings throughout the day when one is trying very hard to break their Trade Me addiction.
But lately I have come to realise that mentors are no longer cool. Apparently if you are a woman in your early 30s you are perfectly formed, immensely talented and destined for great things. It’s as if they all read Bridget Jones Diary and decided that they too could have a fabulous career even though they’ve never actually done anything to deserve it except flirt with Hugh Grant look-alikes and be unlucky in love.
Some social observers might suggest that this is a healthy sign. That women in their early 30s have a strong self esteem, a sense of self worth and a go get’im attitude which should make us proud. Well, yes, but they don’t actually do anything with all that. They totter from social gatherings to envelope openings and occasionally trip over something called work. And me and my mates aren’t happy, actually. Groups of us have recently begun seeking each other out in unhealthy grumpy old women covens to complain about this new breed who have all the trappings of success, but I’m sorry when did one of them go that extra mile, work that extra hour, achieve that extra target? What happened to “proving yourself” and “climbing the ladder? Apparently work is the mere conduit to the lifestyle and is no longer something women aspire to be good at. They look good, they’ve got the job, isn’t that what life is really about?
Well no actually, not if you care about your craft. But then maybe my friends, my mentors and I are just part of a fading breed of people who believe that every day you can do your job better. And if I’m honest we’re also mentor rejects. Every one of us has woken up one morning full of the joys of being alive and decided that when you get to our age it’s time to give something back. It’s a bit Eastern in origin but basically you return the favour your mentors did to you by turning around and passing your knowledge onto someone younger than you. So you gaze around your industry, select someone you think shows promise and take them out to lunch. Where you are astounded to learn that your great expectation has been there done that, bought the T-shirt, written the book, please tell her something she doesn’t know and then finishes it all off with a thinly veiled criticism of your own work. Ouch. So you blame the wine and give her your numbers and wait for that call you’ve made a hundred times:
“Oh my God I have no idea how to deal with this one, have you got time for a drink?”
And you wait, and you wait and you wait. And then you have no choice but come to the conclusion that your knowledge, and let’s throw in your career here too, is of little or no consequence to these perfectly formed beings.
C’est la vie. I guess they’ll never be told to take some risks in life so that when you’re in the rest home looking out at the rain you’ll have lots of memories to make you laugh.(Pauline) Or be taken to Patrick Steel two days before your wedding to get a the dress you forgot to organise(Angela). Or be told not to rush off to Canada with a pig farmer you just met because your career is too promising (Maggie). Or how to fight the last vestiges of male chauvinism lurking in the corridors of newspaper land (Vanya). Or how to charm your way into or out of anything (Cath) Or to swear like a trooper, work like a dog and fight tooth and nail for your magazine above all else (Nene). And be gently persuaded to write a book (Dorothy).

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