This week I felt old. Mostly because I was starting to get sick (now in full-blown cough/cold mode) but also because of a conversation I had with a Millenial.
I am a member of a generation that was taught that working hard was the only way to move ahead, but we learned, as time moved on and the economy failed during our twenties, that being creative and open to change was actually a better way to approach a career. Due to the obstacles that Gen Xers had to overcome to continue to thrive, we tend to be self-starters and quick to embrace change. This was not something we came to easily, but we realized that the only way to survive was to modify our original plans. We also realized, early on, that taking advice from senior members of the business community was a good idea. The advice does not always have to be taken to heart, but it should always be considered with an open mind.
This is one of the reasons why I am excited to have opportunities to speak to successful people. I believe that mentoring is important for everyone and if you are provided with a ticket to an event that can get you in touch with successful people you should jump at the chance to do so. The gender studies area of my brain does pause for a moment when I see events put on for ‘women only’, but the business acumen side says forge ahead! If you can meet successful women, in and out of your field, that can share valuable information on how to get ahead in a man’s industry, why wouldn’t you go for it? As long as the event is not discriminatory toward trans women, which this event is not, I think it is all good. No matter how much men (and women who, consciously or unconsciously, support MRAs) might whine and complain, an event for women to get in touch with other women that have gained success in business is nothing but a good thing.
The Millenial begged to differ. She felt that going to an event of this kind would be beneath her in that it would only give her women to speak to and not men. She is often talking about the lack of mentorship in our place of business and how she needs someone to help her envision her career path going so far as to comment on (and on this day she did as well) how Gen X workers just do what they are told to do, by bosses, without question and that Millenials are going to need changes in the workplace for them to be satisfied in their careers. Despite (or perhaps because of) all of the above, she does not see the worth in an afternoon of mentorship.
My main questions here would be: How do you know it is not worth it unless you go to the event? How can you prejudge the event merely because it is for women to meet with other successful women? And the big one: How can you call yourself a feminist if you do not understand the worth of having women mentor you? Successful women have been through all the trials and tribulations in the workplace that you are yet to face. Just because you have not had to deal with a man in the same position as you being promoted over you, does not mean it will not happen someday. This is actually more of an opportunity for Millenial women in the workforce than for Gen X or Baby Boomer women. The BB and GX women have already been through all of these things. We have been working professionally for 20-40 years already and have seen all the garbage that comes along with trying to work with business while also carrying around a vagina. This event could introduce her to someone really great that she can keep in contact with and meet up with once or twice in the future to just bounce around ideas about her future career. This could be the mentoring relationship she is actually looking for, but she will never know because her mind is closed off to it. She is waiting for that mentor to magically appear in the workplace. She does not realize that if she wants a meaningful mentor relationship, she will most likely have to seek that out elsewhere.
In the end, it makes me sad. Sad for a new generation of workers that think mentoring is just a given and cannot understand why, when they get their first professional gig, there is not someone there to step into that role. It makes me sad for a group of young workers that do not seem to think they need to put in the effort to receive the rewards. I am not one for generalizations, especially across generations of humans, but in this case, after reading many articles on this topic where Millenials are asking for this very thing – a mentor to just exist when they start working on day one, I feel that the generalization may not be far off. This new generation of workers has been taught, along the way, that mentors are to be expected. That people will be there to help them along in their careers. And this is not far from the truth, but the missing piece is the part where the individual needs to seek out the mentor. The mentor does not come to the seeker. You have to work for everything in life. If you want a mentor, go find one and cultivate that relationship. Do some research online and find organizations to join that will give you access to successful people in your field. Go to events where mentors are made available for networking. Work your dreams. Make it happen. That is what every individual of every generation has to do. Insults aside, Gen X has actually been pretty successful at making shitty situations turn around for the better. We have had to do so in order to survive. Taking advice from us, once in a while, might not be a bad thing. We have been there. We know what the road is like. If you want to thrive, ask someone ahead of you in business how they overcame their struggles.
The mentors are available to you if you just put in the effort to find them. Happy hunting!