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“I’m too old to be a mentee”

So a few days ago one of the students from my latest weekend workshop The Way of the Networking Ninja messaged me asking the following:

I’m starting to think this course isn’t suited for me. I just turned 50 and and I’m feeling like I’m too old to be a mentee. I feel like I need a gig more than I need a mentor.

Whenever someone tells me for whatever reason (usually their age), “I don’t need a mentee” what I hear is:

“I’m done learning.”

As much as I’d like to avoid being morbid here, to put it bluntly:

When you are done learning, you are done living.

There is so much scientific evidence based on countless amounts of research – not to mention mountains of anecdotal evidence – that learning is literally what keeps us alive. As soon as we resign to no longer learning & growing our bodies and brains slowly begin to whither and die.

I think where people ultimately get hung up here is on the definition of a “mentor” or a “mentee.”

The common assumption is that a “mentee” is a beginner: Someone young and inexperienced learning something new. And the “mentor” is the seasoned expert who guides them along the path.

  • Luke Skywalker, the young Jedi-in-training, is guided by his mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.
  • Daniel, the white belt newbie, is guided by his black belt mentor Mr. Miyagi.
  • Neo, a beginner as far as understanding the construct of his reality, is guided by his mentor Morpheus to understand The Matrix.

In all of these cases, I think most would argue that Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, and Morpheus are not only mentors but also “experts.”

But the definition of “expert” is where so many people get hung up on understanding the value of connecting with mentors and building relationships.

Redefining the Term ‘Expert’

How I define the term “expert” is a topic I dive into extensively in my article How to Find the Right Type of Mentor For You, but in short, an expert does not only have to included a seasoned and wise professional who has mastered their craft. (ideally with either a long white beard or badass sunglasses)

A better definition of ‘expert’ as it relates to your journey is as follows:

Your ‘expert’ is anyone doing now what you would like to be doing next.

Yeah…it’s that simple.

Which means age has absolutely nothing to do with being either a mentor or a mentee.

If I’m straight out of high school and my dream job is landing an internship at the local college’s tv station…the person who is currently the Freshman intern at the local college TV station is the world’s foremost expert on achieving my goals. Yeah that’s right, a Freshman in college in this context is both an “expert” and a potential “mentor.”

Conversely, if I’m 50 years old and a seasoned vet with plenty of A-list credits, but it’s been several years since I landed a prestigious gig editing a streaming drama, the world’s foremost expert on landing that gig is someone currently editing a prestigious streaming drama.

But but but but….editors don’t hire me! Producers and directors and show runners do!

Agreed.

But if you don’t already have existing relationships with them, the chances of getting hired cold in the major leagues are slim to none without a referral. So who in the world do you think is going to pass along your info, vouch for you and your skills, and address the elephant in the room when the producer asks, “Why should I hire someone I haven’t worked with before?”

You might be 50 and have a ton of credits, but you have an obstacle standing between you and your next goal. And there’s someone on the other side of that obstacle that knows the path to getting through it.

That person is both the world’s foremost expert on you goals…and your new mentor.

And you, my friend, have become someone’s mentee.

Networking Isn’t a Game of Checkers

It doesn’t matter if you just need a gig in a week or you’re building your resume over the next decade, networking cannot just be a game of checkers, it must be a game of chess. And the more focus & effort you put into surrounding yourself with mentors (i.e. people doing now what you’d like to be doing next), the more often you’ll get “lucky” and find the next gig.

It’s a lot simpler than it appears…but it’s definitely not easy.

Struggling to Redefine Yourself? You Don’t Want to Miss Tomorrow’s Episode

If you’re struggling right now with being a bit later in your career wanting to make a major career transition that just won’t stick, you’ll want to listen to my episode tomorrow with ACE editor Yvette Amirian who like last week’s guest Stephanie Filo, ACE has also balanced multiple genres, formats, and more…all while being a mom.

→ Click here to subscribe so you don’t miss tomorrow’s episode when it drops

Until tomorrow…

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”