Being a protégé can make you feel anxious.  You are essentially admitting you do not know stuff you need someone to help teach you.  And, if that relationship with a mentor is a new one, it can double the apprehension.  Being vulnerable in front of a stranger is not exactly exciting work.

Lessons on how to manage your anxiety are presented below in a unique script-like format. When you read it, you will be in the position of the protégé in a story that traces the unfolding of a mentoring relationship. This is the first of four posts on protégé power.  And you will be the only real person in this story. Your mentor is made up . . . his name is Dale and his character is a mixture of a lot of typical mentors. Dale’s role is like a prop –– not a central part of this story –– to help you explore your thoughts and feelings about the experience of mentoring. You are the main focal point, and so your words are always in bold print.

There is one other made-up character in this four-part story. Appropriately named Sage, she (or he) is that brilliant part of you that is all knowing and never at a loss for what to do or say. Sage is your tap-on-the-shoulder, whisper-in-the-ear guru who mentors you through your relationship with Dale.  Imagine Sage looking any way you want . . . my Sage looks like Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but he (mine is a he) is the size of Tinkerbell in Peter Pan.  Sage’s words to you appear in italics.

Our story opens on a fall morning, the first day of sunshine after a week of overcast skies. You are meeting with Dale for the first time. Dale will also be your project leader on an effort that will take at least six months. When the project is completed Dale will be preparing an assessment of your performance to be included in your personnel file, along with the assessment of others associated with or affected by the project. You know who Dale is, but you don’t really know him. Dale’s cubicle is tucked away in a hard-to-find corner of the building. The room contains three identical cubicles; Dale’s is in the middle.

YOU:  “Where the heck is this place? I should have brought bread crumbs to find my way back.”

SAGE:  “You’ll find it, and everything will work out terrific. Walk slower . . . you have plenty of time! And walk stately . . . like you own this place. Hold your head up! Good! Now take a couple of really deep breaths.”

YOU:  “Dale’s probably not even there. Seems like his cubicle is in the middle of a row of cubicles. I’ll bet there will be a bunch of people able to eavesdrop on everything we say. What am I doing here?”

SAGE: “He WILL be there . . . remember, he called you twice to confirm the time. And what if there ARE people within earshot? People in the cubicle next to yours listen to you talking with your best friend about some pretty sensitive topics. So lighten up! You’ll do great! Think about two things: First, what you want to get out of  this experience, not how you’ll do. Second, think about how you can help Dale best deliver a really great mentoring performance.”

YOU: “Okay, okay. My goal for this experience: to get through it alive!”

You find yourself getting tickled at your own humor. It occurs to you there are similarities to joking at a time like this and whistling in the dark when you walked home from a friend’s house when you were a kid. You wind through a few twists and turns. Then you spot the row of cubicles Dale had described in his directions when the two of you last spoke. Dale is standing in the entrance with a big grin. You discover your fear is giving way to the front edge of excitement.

YOU: “You must be Dale,” you find yourself saying. “I’m glad you could see me today.”

Dale directs you to a seat and offers to get you a cup of coffee. You say thanks as you sit down and take a pass on the coffee.

SAGE: “Great job . . . you’re starting off on the right foot. Let Dale have the floor and guide you through how the conversation is to unfold. Remember, help Dale deliver greatness! When the time comes, you can tell Dale clearly your goals for this experience.”

As if right on cue, Dale starts the conversation on goals. Your turn comes when he asks about yours.

YOU: “Yes, Dale, I do have a few goals. I’m new to the process we will be using on project documentation, and I know you’ve had a lot of experience. I also want to learn more about how to deal with multiple clients who have conflicting demands on my time. Too often, I get caught in the middle. If I satisfy one client I disappoint the other. Sometimes I avoid them both since I know it will be a no-win situation.”

SAGE:  “Remember the other part . . . YOU have a responsibility to Dale. Now, go ahead and talk about it!”

YOU: “Oh, and Dale . . . there is one other goal I have for this experience. I want to do everything I can to make this a great mentoring experience for you.”

Dale looks surprised and noticeably pleased. He responds awkwardly but is obviously moved. You suddenly sense this relationship just got bumped up to a higher level.

SAGE: “You’re doing a great job. This is going to work out! Don’t you think?”

P.S.  Be on the lookout for the next chapter of this story coming in the blog next week.