“We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.” — Whoopi Goldberg
"And the Lord spoke to Moses: 'Speak to Aharon; say to him: When you raise up the lamps [of the candelabrum (Menorah)], the seven lamps shall illuminate the space in front of the candelabrum.'" Numbers 8:1–2.
Unconventional Hebrew expressions in the Bible invariably challenge biblical scholars as they seek to derive the passage's implied, often nuanced, meanings. Here, the phrase, “When you raise up…” seems to be an awkward choice of words. A more straightforward instruction would certainly be “When you light [or kindle] the lamps….” Rashi, the classic medieval commentator, cites a midrash elucidating this expression. He noted that “raise up” may derive from the physical nature of the wick emanating from the olive oil lamp and the ascendant nature of the flame: “Because the flame rises upwards, an expression denoting 'ascending' is used for kindling them (the lights), implying that one must kindle them until the light ascends of itself.”
Indeed, one must nurture, sometimes nudge, the flickering wick until the flame illuminates on its own.
Midrash Rabba creatively employs the dynamics of lighting a flame as an anchor for the critical value of giving to others, thus expanding a technical process to an interpersonal one: “For him who lights a candle from another candle, the [new] candle is now lit, and the candle that has kindled it does not lack.” The implication is that a person attending to the needs of another has empowered them without needing to relinquish what is dear to them.
Thus, lighting the wick, or seeing the initial spark, is only the first step. Before moving on, as parents nurture their young or as professionals mentor younger colleagues, one must persevere until satisfied that the flame can maintain itself without outside support––with the outcome being two robust flames. Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, takes this principle a step further, advising us to embrace opportunities in life: “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”
Having a good mentor at a critical career stage has been widely acknowledged as central to career success. If the opportunity arises, grab it. If not, seek it out. Mentor relationships may be institutionalized in an organization by matching mentors and mentees or can emerge from informal relationships. Group and even remote mentor relationships offer additional models of this valuable tool.
The mentoring role implies that the mentor has been acknowledged as a professional with a high level of expertise who is generous with their time and willing to share skills with others. A key mentoring skill is active listening and expressing sensitivity to the mentee’s needs beyond the role of teacher. For instance, discussing how to juggle life and work challenges is not beyond the purview of a mentoring relationship. Thus, the mentoring relationship, whether mentoring an early-career worker or being mentored, indicates a comfort level with colleagues of different ages, not just those of the individual's cohort generation.
Incorporating your mentor relationships in your resume or job interview shows that you are not only investing in your own needs; you are comfortable being a team player, looking out for the organization’s wider interests. Being a mentee can indicate a willingness, even eagerness, to learn from others and grow in your profession. It can indicate an openness to being critiqued and learning from mistakes, a key attribute of those who successfully adjust to the constantly changing workplace. Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up the central attraction of having a mentor: “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can."
- For mentors: Mentoring can be a central professional function at any age. As noted, the mentoring experience can be invaluable in seeking new positions. Along with your accomplishments as a professional, you can enrich your job search armed with stories of your achievements as a mentor. For instance, recall how you empowered a mentee to overcome specific barriers, such as their reticence to network or difficulty accepting criticism. You may have encouraged them to engage in organizational citizenship behavior at the workplace or saw results in helping them manage time. In many multi-generation workplaces, experienced mentors can offer considerable added value.
- For mentees: Your experience as an early-career mentee can be an asset when confronting the inevitable job interview questions of “Tell me about a weakness you may have at work” or “What is your greatest weakness?” You can come prepared with stories of overcoming challenges with a mentor’s help. Work issues, such as getting bogged down with detail or avoiding dealing with certain colleagues, may have once been shortcomings. However, with your mentor’s help, you were able to modify your approach, enabling you to deal directly with these issues. These stories will reflect your ability to deal with shortcomings and highlight your ease in seeking input from others on how to manage them.
- Try this: Even as a young professional, reach out to an older colleague to help them master a skill in which you have acknowledged expertise. For instance, you can help the older worker with Gen Z jargon, introduce the latest social media platform, or assist them in making their blog more appealing to a broader audience. Being on both sides of the mentoring relationship has grown in popularity and can enrich you in many ways, generating a double win-win work relationship.
Bamidbar Rabbah, Section 13. This is a medieval homiletic text (midrash), elucidating the Book of Numbers.