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Did you pick a mentor?


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One of the things I wish I had done differently in my career (though I ain't dead yet -- age 55, which means I have quite a ways to go per the IRS life expectancy tables) would have been to establish a relationship with an older man in my field, to whom I could turn for advice on a regular basis... someone to pass along "Here's what I would have done differently..." kinds of tips and guidance.

As I've grown older, I've been surprised at how few younger people understand the benefit of such a relationship. I know I didn't, though I fancy myself to have been a fairly bright young salaryman such that I should have known better.

About a month ago, I said to a personable young employee benefits attorney that I would be happy to hear from him and to pass along information or advice about being a practicing attorney. He sorta smiled, took my card, and hasn't contacted me since. Actually, it's happened twice recently.

Dumb. (Says I, to my younger self.)

Has this been your experience, fellow grey-heads?

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Dave, to quote George Bernard Shaw, "The problem with youth is it's wasted on the young." It's a true task to differentiate between mentoring and lecturing (I believe I'm lecturing here) and to avoid answering questions that haven't been asked. Also, great care must be taken to contain yourself from telling people what you think they should do rather than helping them accomplish what they want to do. Finally, none of us (baldies) is seeking a relationship where the mentee (is there such a word) is warting us to death about issues he/she is perfectly capable of resolving on his/her own.

I get questions from younger colleagues (well, there not so young anymore) but these tend to be more technical rather than addressing such areas as how should I market my services, how should I work with the clients' other advisers, how do I avoid miscommunication, etc.

The long and the short is many younger folk want to do it on their own just as many of us did. And if they don't, you may not be interested in spoon feeding.

As I reread what I've written, I find it is not exactly on point with the feedback you were seeking. This suggests you may not want employ me as your mentor.

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I was blessed to have an exceptional unofficial mentor in my younger days at a former employer. A fine ERISA attorney, he was unstinting with his patience and time, going far above and beyond the call of duty, and never once showed any frustration with my many stupid questions. I was lucky, and I knew it!

It's tough now, because so many employers have such specialized job requirements that they won't or can't do much in the way of on-the-job training, and they don't want the "expert" taking their time to "mentor" a younger employee. So it seems to me that these mentoring relationships are going the way of hard-copy newspapers.

Plus, seems like the dang young whippersnappers think they know everything...

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I can relate. Will Rogers once said, "Man (Woman) gets smarter in two ways: 1) Reading; and 2) Associating with smarter people. I've, personally, done much of both. In doing so, I have witnessed everything you two just pointed out. I've seen the young take a back seat and go for the quick-fix instead of gaining a deeper understanding of concepts and principles in order to apply them in the future. I've seen Employers refuse to offer training to their employees while being the first to point the finger as if their employees are the root of their problems.

Despite all of this, there are those who have a passion for the work today that is stronger than I've ever witnessed. The details in their answers and the ability to reference the Code and Regulations to provide a cite on any topic is amazing. I wish we had more of this in the industry and less of those who are merely looking for the next button to push.

I used to attempt to learn as much as I could from the individuals I work with. Now, I learn from the community of professional right here who take time to participate in discussions on various issues.

Good Luck!

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I started in the business of plan administration and consulting in 1981. it was not planned and I simply answered a job ad for a trust accountant after graduating college. It was for an actuarial firm. The only thing I knew about an actuary was that was the person you called to get the pension deduction for the tax return.

The day I was hired I found my mentor in this business. He still sometimes posts on these boards. When DB plans went away in the 80's my world changed to DC Plans. He still remained my mentor.

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Dave, thanks for bringing up this topic. I've been in this crazy business for over 30 years and my friends are always a great resource when I want to get an unofficial opinion outside the company where I work. I too was lucky to have a mentor when I started in the business and we kept in touch even after we no longer were working together. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to mentor a younger colleage and like to feel I contributed to her success. Haven't heard from her in years.

The up and comers are smart and most are hard working too. However, it often feels like there is too much "pushing the buttons" rather than willingness to think through the issues. While that can make things more efficient, it often feels like we're removed from the process. My way of doing a restatement was to take the opportunity to see what might improve the plan design for the client/participants. Now we do it electronically by mapping the old provisions to the new version of the document.

We seniors often wonder what this business will be like once all of us "gray hairs" have ridden into the sunset. Different for sure. I've worked primarily in bank trust departments and some in TPA's but it's interesting my experience is similar to yours as attorneys.

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About a month ago, I said to a personable young employee benefits attorney that I would be happy to hear from him and to pass along information or advice about being a practicing attorney. He sorta smiled, took my card, and hasn't contacted me since. Actually, it's happened twice recently.

Kinda like parenting, huh?

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