In memory of mentorship Mondays
By Vivian Chiu
You should find yourself a considerate and thoughtful mentor who doesn’t walk on eggshells, someone who mentors with their whole truth.
By Vivian Chiu
I used to think Mondays have a bad reputation.
When I first started out my security management career at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Mondays were by far my favourite workday. It was a day when most cultural institutions worldwide are closed to the public, allowing for an integral catch-up day. It was a day when I would carve out time to sit down with my mentor, Dennis, to discuss all things personal to professional, social to political. There were truly no limits to our wandering conversations, even if they occasionally turned into intense discussions and debates. But isn’t that the essence of a true professional mentorship? Having someone who is willing to guide you unconditionally and disagree with you unreservedly?
Dennis and I met in September 2012, when I started as an assistant manager in the Protection Services Department at the AGO. Dennis, a Black man in his 60s, had a magnetic personality that garnered the respect of every security staff at the gallery. He had the most genuine smile and infectious laugh that echoed through the galleries, and walked with an air of confidence without any hint of arrogance. He would talk of racism and its impact on his life, but his disposition and tone never showed signs of bitterness or weakness. He was grateful to be able to turn hardships into learning and teaching opportunities, and I was lucky to be on the receiving end of his wisdom.
When I talk about Dennis and his impact as a mentor on my personal and professional growth, there is – without fail – the assumption that he was my manager. “He must be a great boss to work for” is the common sentiment, though he was not. Dennis didn’t have the prestigious title people would expect. He was a humble security guard.
One of the biggest misconceptions young professionals have, often early in their careers, is that a mentor should be someone who is your superior or a trailblazing security expert. I was stuck in that mindset for the longest time. The truth is, inexperience far too often make us credulous to any professional advice, from anyone who will remotely pay us an ounce of attention.
But that myopic mindset is dangerous: being in the upper echelon of the security tier does not equate to being a successful mentor. We need to recognize that, in order to find a compatible mentor, we must first destroy our preconceived notions about the corporate ladder. Instead, I advise that we look outward, not upward. Dennis may have been just a security guard to certain people, but he taught me some of the most valuable lessons I will ever have the privilege to learn.
Finding a well-matched mentor who invests time in you is no easy feat, especially in today’s climate. We live in a generation where professionals are hyper-connected on social media platforms like LinkedIn. However, many of us still remain unequivocally disconnected in so many areas of our professional lives. For instance, a young professional may have more than 500+ connections, because clicking the “add” button on LinkedIn takes zero effort, but won’t ever encounter a single mentor.
This façade of interconnectedness is frightening and truly detrimental to one’s professional growth, and as a result, it hinders the advancement of our security industry because it affects our talent retention. We lose them if we don’t mentor them. This is not to say that the practice of building an online presence and seeking online connections is unimportant, because it is, but it should only serve to widen your network and not as a medium to sustain a mentorship.
Let’s face it — we all seem to be overloaded in our ever-shrinking days, burying our heads into our countless devices that we often forget about the importance of personal relationships. We forget that growing an organic mentor/mentee relationship takes time that many of us are unwilling to spare. We forget that the virtual world and digital mentorships are quintessentially impersonal. We forget about each other. We neglect the power of lengthy, drifting, uncompromising conversations, where the most thought-provoking discussions and lessons truly flourish. Mentorships flame out rapidly without a genuine human connection, and you certainly can’t swipe right to find a compatible mentor.
I have never taken Dennis’ mentorship for granted. I understood very well that it was a privilege that most novice professionals will never get. Young professionals are often flooded with the advice that mentorship is critical to their vocational success, but they are rarely told how to kick start a mentorship. Experienced professionals are often willing to lend a quick hand, give advice in passing, or help novice professionals close the gap on their six degrees of separation. However, they are rarely proactive in forming mentorships.
Seasoned security professionals should bear some professional responsibility to not only teach the next generation to separate social and digital connectivity, but should seek out mentoring opportunities and actively take mentorships offline. We must consciously make time for young professionals and turn FaceTime into face-to-face time (post-pandemic). In all the years that Dennis mentored, he never sent me a single verbose e-mail, or insipid text message. These communication mediums never belonged in our mentorship, except for when Dennis sent me photos of his family.
As human beings, we naturally gravitate towards those who love and praise us. Perhaps it’s because when we are complimented, something in our prefrontal cortex lights up. It feels good, but should you settle on a mentor who supports you merely through approvals and compliments? If Dennis had taught me anything through this mentorship, it would be that honesty and authenticity trumps, even if the truth stings a little.
As a cardinal rule, you should find yourself a considerate and thoughtful mentor who doesn’t walk on eggshells, someone who mentors with their whole truth. Avoiding difficult conversations has never helped anyone thrive, which means for young professionals, having thick skin should be a prerequisite. If someone takes time to point out your flaws or challenges your way of thinking, without being intentionally ruthless, your gratitude should correspondingly light up. Mentors are committed to your continued success, sometimes through the darkest of times and often take a no-filter approach. They should be unafraid to challenge your philosophies so profoundly that make you question your deep-seated attitudes. They are selfless and ask for nothing in return.
My dearest security colleagues, we must learn to invest in mentorships that are measured by weight, not time. Mentorships rarely have permanence, but the lessons learned should have a substantial enough impact to sustain us through a lifetime. Life is short and fragile, as we know it. It has the disorienting ability to throw you off your personal or career tracks overnight. A pandemic, an illness, a death — they all have the ability to disconnect us in a catastrophic way.
Do not rob yourself of the opportunity to grow as an individual, as an employee, or as a friend. Do not for a moment think your “adds” and “likes” will magically morph into a profound mentorship. Do not let excuses stop you from mentoring or being mentored. Mostly importantly, do not take time for granted. I sincerely hope you will experience the rare honour of finding your own version of, or be someone’s Dennis, at least once in your lifetime.
Dennis L.G. Hinds passed away in December 2015 after a short battle with cancer. And just like that, Mondays will forever be my least favourite day of the week.