Mentor vs. Tormentor: Who's in your camp?

Mentor vs. Tormentor: Who's in your camp?

By Zondra Hughes

I won a community service award last year and I brought my mentor along to attend the reception.

With the award still clutched in my hands, the mentor looked me square in the eye and said: “don’t be too proud.  It won’t put food on your table.”

Did I mention that I still had the award in my hand? As my smile faded, the mentor went in for the kill.

“I mean, do you feel like that local service award makes a difference in your overall professional growth? It doesn’t. No one will remember you after tonight.”

I didn’t say anything when he dismissed my  award, but I was heartbroken. For the remainder of the evening,  I smiled when I thought I should have smiled or I furrowed my brow when it seemed that I should have been concerned.

I played the game because the mentor knew so many people, he had so many followers, he was an old-school kingmaker, I should have been honored to kiss the ring for the opportunity to gain entrance into his tight knit circle of power, blah, blah, blah.

When the mentor dismissed my award it really opened my eyes. For the first time,  I disconnected from his reputation of greatness and paid more attention to him.

In the light of day, he wasn’t a mentor at all–he was a tormentor.  It was tormenting to see my goal, to do the work needed to get there, only to have a so-called mentor to block me at every turn.

I was better off without him.

(And the service award that he dismissed so readily was given to me, based on my work, not on my connection to him!)

When the mentor spoke, all I heard was white noise: Dull, pointless, reaffirmations of his own grandeur. He never shared access to his power, but he was sure to publicize that he had it. “I was on a delightful junket for authors. You should have been there.”

I would have been there had he told me about it.

In a year’s time, I introduced the mentor to the movers and shakers of my generation. I made certain to ally him with folks that would contribute to his “next chapter of life” goals. I volunteered my time, no matter how much of it he demanded. He used to say, “work with me, and it will work out for you.”

With a new found clarity, I realized that our arrangement worked for him, but I had not progressed.

So how did the relationship enrich my professional life? What was the point of tolerating such attacks on my ego?

At that dinner I mentally unhinged  myself from the tormentor, and eventually I physically unhinged from him. The lesson I learned from my experience with the fake mentor is this:

Knowledge is power.

Know who you are.

Know what you bring to the table, and constantly improve yourself.

Last but not least, know whom you’re dealing with before you play the game: Tormentors talk about where they’ve been; mentors help you to discover your own road to success.








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  • Be proud of your award. It is yours and you earned it and an organization thought enough of you to give it to you. Bravo. Know the difference between a woman mentor and a male mentor. Men usually do not give power away, women mentors usually share their circle. He may be your mentor, but is he your friend? Know who you are, always, at all times. Don't take it personally, look at the business. Someone told me once awards fill the wall not the wallet.

    Go girl. You are now really learning the lessons.

  • In reply to Hermene Hartman:

    So much has been learned from you and I am grateful. Thank you Hermene.

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