Mentor-trap – It takes a mouse…

Take it from me. It is better to have no mentor than have a mentor who has all the good intentions, but doesn’t know what’s exactly right for the mentee. In the first case, you still have excuses to put forth for not getting the cheese, in the rat-race. In the later, you have nobody to turn to and crib, complain or be catty about. You are trapped in a cage, albeit a gilded one.

As the wise men of yore said, “Few people are born with mentors. Some acquire mentors along the way. And a significant portion has mentors thrust upon them.” It’s with the last lot our sympathies should lie. Still skeptical? Sample this story.

Once upon a time there lived Sage Suchitha, or “Pure Mind”, a morally and spiritually superior being with a golden heart. Every day he took bath in a stream flowing by his hermitage and offered prayers to the gods. By a quirk of fate, one day, an eagle flying above head carrying its breakfast, a she-mouse in this case, accidentally dropped it into the stretched hands of the sage. Suchitha took pity on the hapless and injured she-mouse and took it home and applied medicine.

Using the powers vested in him by virtue of his pious nature and penance that he did over time, he turned the mouse into a young girl. He looked after her as his own daughter and taught her all the scriptures and sciences he was teaching his students at that time.

Years passed and the girl grew into a beautiful young maiden of a marriageable age. Sage Suchitha wanted to get her the best groom possible in the whole world; and set out to search for him.

He first approached the Sun god, the provider of light and heat to all worlds and the sustainer of life on earth. “O mighty lord, will you accept the hand of my daughter and make her happy?” Sun bowed to the sage and said, ‘O holy one, I would be happy to oblige you, but I am not the strongest or ablest one that you suppose I am. It is the Cloud king, for he can overshadow me and cut the light and heat off in a jiffy. His is the abode, you want your daughter to be sent as a queen to.”

So the wise man proceeded to the cloud king’s palace. He got a grand reception at the place, and a patient hearing. The upshot is that the sage gained knowledge that the wind god is powerful than the cloud king as he can blow all the fluff in the world in a blink. The hot-air god (for it is by now, afternoon) led the perspiring sage to the mountain king stating that he alone breaks his path and changes his direction by standing his ground stubbornly and not giving way. Who can be mightier than the mountain?

“The mouse king” Pat came the reply from the mountain king, after the customary pleasantries were exchanged and purpose revealed by the pure-heart. “My mighty deportment is a mere nothing when confronted by the powerful jaw of the mouse king. He tunnels through me like I am made of cheese. He is the right choice”.

Off he went to the mouse king and sought his hand. The mouse king readily acquiesced. The daughter was turned into a she-mouse again, and betrothed to the mouse-king. “I got her into a great place, where she can lead her life happily ever after”, so thinking the sage’s eyes went moist. The daughter too shed tears but for a different reason.

For she knew the sage could have, if not so naïve though well meaning, gotten her to marry any of the gods he has visited:

  1. Sun – The shining star who worked fixed hours
  2. Cloud – All fluff floating well above the measly earth, that people looked at and made their own interpretations, without taxing the god’s mind much
  3. Wind – Hot air and invisible to pin down for any misdeed. What fun!
  4. Mountain – Stubborn, rooted to the place, lead a languid life without moving so much as a finger

Instead now she has gotten into a hole, a future mapped out to work incessantly and in mortal fear. A rolling stone slaughters mouse. And the well rooted deportments have many that can crush the tiny body and snuff the life out any moment! Bah, strongest!


So you see folks? If the mentor was smart enough, he would have known what your constitution is. And at the very outset hitched your wagon to the right being. Without rising false hopes.

Or he would have, with the powers vested in him to change you for better (a la mouse to maiden), packaged you and gotten you into the right place without breaking a sweat.

All you mentor-blessed or mentor-hunting minions may smirk at me today, for being mentor-challenged. But make sure, you will not cry at your fate for being delivered into the hands of a well meaning one with less street smartness tomorrow. For then, you know who will have the last laugh!


17 Comments Add yours

  1. Komal Smriti says:

    Hi Arun,

    thank you for sending the weekly mails and apology for a late response!!

    Indeed its quite interesting to read your perspective on mentor, and I must say that you are quite articulate and I like your choice of words.

    But I have a different opinion about mentors…also, I think the story is a little out of context and doesn’t really fit in the situation. But I totally appreciate the mind work…keep up the spirit!

  2. Mohit Seth says:

    Scott Adams has serious competition. Awesome writing Arun. Keep it coming. Cheers…Mohit

  3. Shirin Ara says:

    Very good and interesting article!!!

    And it’s lovely to see a variety of reactions to it!!!

    I do agree with Arun, when he says that it’s better not to have a mentor, than to have one with good intentions but doesn’t know what’s the best for the mentee. Coz a mentor, who is unsure, can be hazardous for the mentee – professionally & personally too!!!
    And this is exactly what reflects in the story….The She mouse was turned into a Girl…brought up like a human with all the good things n teachings…n then was married to a mouse n turned to a mouse ultimately!!! That was quiet unfair though….
    However, in reality I think we can have a way out for the “not so sure” mentors…..
    By rule, we are supposed to have faith and trust in our mentors. But we also know what we are, and what are our strong points…So by keeping a balance of both and not just following blindly, we can put forward our own suggestions whenever we think that there is a little off track work going on (provided we have mentors who appreciate & welcome suggestions).. This might help in alarming the mentor if he is on the verge of making a mistake. A proactive approach maybe… This comes from me out of experience!!
    It’s a mutual relationship after all….We learn from our mentors and follow them, but we can also put forward our own suggestions n try n get the best way out..This will help the mentors in knowing us & what’s best for us….

    But this again depends on the kind of mentor we have…An autocratic Mentor (who knows all) with no clarity will be of no help absolutely… in that case, we can only empathize n sympathize!!!!

    All in all.. a very good article Arun!!!! Very practical and like I have told for the earlier article as well, a fantastic link between a tale n reality!!!

    Cheers !!

    Shirin Ara

  4. Anupama says:

    Once again, well written! But the story is used out of context!The mouse girl marries a mouse as it is one of her own kind. Remember, that at the core, she is a mouse and by turning her into a girl, her “mouse qualities” don’t go away.
    Coming back to the debate about mentors, I sort of disagree with your views… In large organisations, one may need mentors to help one get through the maze. Of course, the mentor has to be right. But one can’t blame the system of mentoring if the mentor chosen is a wrong one. Also, mentoring is done because someone in the system believes you are not “street smart” ‘coz if you were, you would be the boss. One has to appreciate that!

  5. Pavan Kishore says:

    I was lucky enough to havesome grat mentors who guided me up to a point only to let go of mewhen rhey believed that I was capable enough to manage the issues on my own. I have also had some not so great mentors also & I realized that there was something to learn from them also. Really it is only what we learn from our mentor that matters, not the mentor.

  6. Vidushi Gupta says:

    Hi…you have got a beautiful art of linking just the right story with the real situations…it really works…!!

    But my belief is pretty different..Mentors surely polishes you..
    As you have mentioned…mentors spoil you…in my case its just the opposite…i have been lucky to have my Mentor..:)…(for sure not mentioning bout my boss here..n i know..i’m going offbeat..out of corporate world..but it helped me there also)..
    I really think..its important to have mentor..but one has to be really lucky….n that magnet should work..of inviting mentors…or mentees in their immidiate environment!!
    n definitely that’s not the case..that one needs to have shoulders to cry on…or crib about….but yes…to show clear path of and making you a better person everyday and …its always fun to have such intellectual people around…

    Its the apporach of give and take that matters…even if you teach or learn one good thing…becomes a win win situation!!

  7. ivak99 says:

    Thanks all for the comments – great take on mentors and valuable points to be gleaned from the perspectives offered. But my raison d’etre lies in nit-picking so here i go commenting on:

    * your single sample syndrome – the good, the bad and the ugly (Karthik, Rajani, Sonia; don’t sue me please, I am neither rich nor famous yet)
    @Sonia, to answer your turning tough nut, i would urge you to reflect on this. Milk good. Child told. Milk hot. Child ignorant. Learns a valuable lesson after liberal application of butter, cream, or such stuff guranteed to sooth scalded lips, tongue and upper palate. Tough nut? Twice shy?
    @Karthik Jai ho for bitter taste. Jury still out on better results
    @Rajani I can only laud your masochistic spirit. For you say you learnt your lesson and do not need a mentor. And sign-off by seeking me out as one!

    * your pragmatic approach (or so it appears at first glance, but am sure is shaped by multiple, humbling experiences)- Munish, Uday, Fahad, Adrienne
    @Munish if a mentor in our lives is inevitable, we should be prepared to enjoy the ride 🙂
    @Uday Wisdom earned (at whosoever’s expense) pays back only when it’s reinvested appropriately. Since mentees change, contexts change – one experience fits all becomes the bane of subsequent mentees that by their fate are lead to such mentor’s caring hands!
    @Fahad would love to borrow your vision for a moment to cast my eyes on such an utopia (of responsible & decisive mentees and self-assured mentors) if it exists!
    @Adrienne Belling the (tor)mentors, eh? 🙂

    * your naive optimism – Mateen, Rizwan, Kishore
    @Mateen don’t count your chickens yet, as “In the long run we will all have mentors”
    @Rizwan I do not have the heart to evict you from your dreamworld
    @Kishore had to club you in this group as:
    a) do not want a seperate bucket to hold 1 datapoint
    b) i will not rise to your bait of ratting out on my mentor 😉 (I am mentor-challenged remember?)

  8. Kishore Parthasarathy says:

    Grt read Arun!
    Visualize this – A mentee is like a blind man who is trying to climb a mountain and find the top! He needs to to go up n down god knows how many times to figure out if he has reached the top(if at all he does). A mentor(depending on how lucky soul you are) is one of these..
    – A man who gives “instructions” just before the mentee starts and leaves the poor soul on his own
    – A blind man giving him instructions all the way!
    – A man holding a torch and showing the way to a blind mentee!
    – A man standing on the top and shouting his heart out giving instructions to the poor soul below to heed the dreaded path
    So what kind of mentor do you have? 🙂

  9. Adrienne says:

    On 02/10/10 2:45 PM, Adrienne Williams wrote:
    Ah, so quickly you have given me another scribblings to answer — that’s ok, because I would rather provide an opinion on the mentoring.

    Mentors are usually horrible because they don’t know how to make the relationship between the mentor and mentee valuable. They themselves have most likely never had a role model in their entire professional life and now they’ve been thrust into a role that is bound to be unsuccessfu and even damaging to the menteel. It is just like a child who has never been given the tools to manage through various situations in life — they will most likely fail at the very things that we, as parents, are responsible to teach.

    Mentors are not born and true leaders are not born – they are taught. That is not to say that because one can learn the skills of leadership that one can be a good leader. There are intrinsic qualities that they have that attract followers, command respect, keep employees energized and engaged and most of all, they walk the talk. Mentors/leaders are no different, except that for some reason, the powers that be choose the mentor like they choose a loaf of bread – if it’s fresh it must be good. On the other hand, leaders must go through vigorous assessments, reviews, interviews, etc. to be chosen to lead.

    If only companies would realize that mentoring is a skilled job, just like managing, creating a budget or hiring a talented workforce – and if one is not good at it, then move them aside and stop torturing the poor mentee.


  10. Rizwan Tanveer says:

    This is a good story. This shows everyone in this world will think in his own ways to make the world a better place to live. The sage had the intension to make the best out of the she-mouse. The love and joy to make the best is the character of a good person. The sage being a man of ethics and knowledge he had the best intensions to give the future of the she-mouse.

    “As the birds with same feather will flock togather”. The destiny of the she-mouse could not be changed by the sage.

    The best part of life is to believe the mentor and do exactly according to his wishes if anyone wants to succeed. Lucky persons are those who will have a mentor.

    It is a differnt issue that he is a mentor or good mentor or better mentor or the best mentor. Submission to the ideas and words is the root to success. “Wisdom is not learnt it is passed from generation to generation”. So a mentor is a genrator of wisdom.

    Good and bad people will live in every where in this world. But bad people will never become a mentor.

    Not just having good virtues make a indivisual a mentor but Wisdom is a must.

    Any indivisual understands the meaning of mentor and gets a good mentor is the lucky person.

    Rizwan Tanveer


    Hey Arun,

    Like I always say…..yet another masterpiece!!

    This one, is so relevant to the present day scenarios in the workplace….that of a boss and a superboss and maybe a super duper boss….company heirarchies!!
    How your mentor is placed in this ladder, determines your fate….directly, in the years to come:)
    From my personal experience, I started off my career, under a very famous scientist, who was so result-oriented that she would praise my skills and my diligence, just to boost my morale all the time….i ended up putting my heart and soul into the job,only to realise that I was neither acknowledged nor rewarded for it…she ended up winning accolades and laurels for it….Did I question her about it….never.
    The experience however made me a more confident person, as now, I know I dont need a mentor, necessarily. My work should speak for itself…If I know I am doing the right thing, the right way, then I would make an impact….up there….to the super duper boss, anyway, wudnt I? Ofcourse, there will still be ”obstacles”in the form of those who are on the rungs of the ladder in between, who will always wait to hog the limelight, but if the pertson on top is a smart one…..he will know better.
    And Sonia….yes, in my case, one bad experience, changed my thought process….completely and forever…and for the better too…
    I would like to have a mentor like you Arun, if at all….atleast I would learn a lot about Corporate Politics and benefit from the same….

    Good Luck and Cheers!!!

  12. Fahad says:

    It’s an appealing anecdote which is short and sweet with a fine significance. The synonyms for the word mentor can be adviser, counselor, guide, tutor, teacher, guru but not necessarily a director. In brief, an expert might either delegate or dictate in different styles i.e., the task can be done in a predefined fashion or by the spontaneous judgment of the person who is undertaking the particular chore.
    In the story, the sage took every word from the God’s he met as the final verdict. A guide or a mentor can be someone who expresses their view with an assurance, but not necessary understand our situation. End of the day its each individual’s responsibility to make his or her own decision based on the facts or gut- feel they have. Mentors can be a source of information but not necessarily a accurate direction. They might help in the process of decision making but they cannot be making the decision for you.

  13. Mateen Hamza says:

    sigh of relief…never gotten a mentor, and after reading this will not even dare to find one. 🙂

  14. Uday says:

    You can turn a mouse into a human being but you cannot take out the mouse from out of that human being. The mentor wanted to try out his HR skills and took his first job seriously. Experience taught him again and again that there were better options and then still better ones. But the only option that felt comfortable to both the mentor and mentee was that of a natural cultural fit. Slow realization that. Very costly for both. But All is Well – Der Sahi, Andher Nahi. Wisdom earned at the mentees expense!

  15. Munish says:

    very well written and I tend to agree with you- most often mentors are thrust upon you and they about their job in mechanical manner. After all human beings are complex entity with personality shaped by personal experiences, perceptions, fears and anxieties of all kind and for a mentor to connect to them and make meaningful changes in your life is virtually next to impossible.

    What i believe in is that if mentor has to come to your life he will come from nowhere. There is a saying “When the student is ready the teacher arrives” You don’t have to go seeking for it.

  16. A very good one; The End results of what is required to be achieved sets the process and eliminates unnecessary hype/ expectations.

    I was blessed to be mentored by 2 great managers to be molded as an effective/ efficient person. One focused on work and the other on personal traits. Yes, It all boils down to luck to have great mentors. Also the process works better over a long time/ informal way with understanding the gaps as well as the connection just happens and moves forward.

    Good mentoring:- Like medicine; Bitter taste; better results.

    Good post as usual.

  17. Sonia says:

    Good one! I had a mentor and it was terrible because somewhere I was made to realize that I ought to know everything and at every step I was being watched. Luckily I did well but I felt that if I made any errors, I’ll be shown the way to the exit door. The entire experience was worse than my board exams. It was like being thrown to a heard of lions for all the unwanted work 😦
    The idea of having a mentor sounded exciting least realizing that one single person, my mentor, was enough to bring my nightmares to life.
    It’s not about not having a mentor at all for 1) not all of them come knocking you down and 2) it’s all about your luck factor.
    Do you think one bad experience makes you a tough nut to face more, if any?

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