#30daysofgratitude: Who’s a Mentor?

Day 30: There’s a vast sea between bosses and mentors. Anyone who has had one would agree. Who’s a mentor, you ask? For me, it’s one of those few things that I find easy to define. It’s simply someone whose time I feel greedy for. Like Sai’s.

In another lifetime, Sai had said that all these experiences that I was having were good. I would grow and be able to write a book about them because terrible memories make for great stories. For the longest time after I knew her, I wanted to be like her. I’d wish I had a career like that and also more importantly, I wished that I spoke like her, with authority and clarity. The only reason I’ve given up that wish now is that, I truly believe that I should be a first rate version of myself, and that’ll impress her more than me copying any other style mindlessly. The point being: I’ll be her fan girl forever.

#30daysofgratitude Who's a Mentor

The time that Sai met me was a golden period. I was in a tough spot personally and very attached to my work. Sai being my mentor was a reward I had from my bosses, and there’s nothing in my McKinsey career that I feel more proud of. There were hundreds of people around and I liked that she had some time especially for me. All of my conversations, travel, singing songs down on the walk from the Seoul tower and so many work meetings with Sai, finally helped me get rid of a gazillion biases and unnecessary junk. Like this myth that all women corporate bosses are bad. Or that, I have to do things only in ABC way to succeed.

I’ve always been an individualist and believed in being my own true self, at work and at home. However, for many years, I lacked the ability to assert that to myself. Talking to Sai made me aware of it, and internalize that belief slowly. But her influence went far beyond my work.

There’s a dumb story I recall. Once I was wearing these bright new sandals and she said they looked good. I wasn’t really used to too many compliments and retorted by the horrendous, ‘oh you wouldn’t believe how inexpensive they are.’ Writing this now makes me want to cry at the sadness of my response. She calmly said, ‘it’s ok, when someone says it’s good, you don’t always have to talk about it so.’ It’s embarrassing even now, but I think most things that make you grow tend to be like that.

I’ve not managed to meet her in a while since I left for Germany, but I think she’s going to like who she sees now. Definitely much better than what she knew. I miss talking to her and hearing all her stories. At work I never ever wanted our meetings to end 😀 – I was infinitely greedy for more time. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between bosses and mentors. The ones that I miss talking to are far too few.

Besides how can you not like a mentor who loves her iPad games and understands Dagny and Dominique just like you do?