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We’re over-mentored

“Go out and change the world,” they said. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” they said. So, here we stand, at the edge of a daunting cliff as the rocks fall into an unforeseeable abyss before us. Most of us have only known a world with gravity––the constant reminder that we can’t fly. Yet, everyday, we stand at this cliff as we’re told that we can fly if we just believe. There are no wings on our backs. And I’m pretty sure none of us are Dot from “A Bug’s Life.” But it doesn’t matter how many mentor groups you attend, how long you spiritually meditate, how many people tell you that you can fly––you won’t leave the ground until you make a decision on your own.

Alright, alright, I’m not saying there’s not value in motivation and mentors-–I have my own confidantes just as any good student. But can mentorship programs really give us a better future?

In 1935, the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study was founded to study how support in young males prevented delinquency. For five years, 253 boys were provided treatment through counseling and medical and academic assistance. An additional 253 boys were part of a control group that received no treatment. Many of us strive to be like the experimental group: more counseling, mentoring and support equals a more promising future, right?

Maybe not. Despite the benefits the boys received during the five years of mentoring, the criminal rates were surprisingly no different than the boys who had not been mentored. They committed an equal number of crimes. The study concluded that perhaps “early treatment and intensive contact with the boys may not be an effective means toward crime prevention.”

And that was in the age before Google when it was arguably more important to have a mentor-–when the only information available was in physical textbooks and scholars. If there were no real long-term benefits to utilizing programs at that time, then I would dare to say that––if the same study was conducted today––there would likely be a negative effect from the program.

So, the next time you’re standing on the rocky edge of a tough decision, consider building your own bridge. Instead of running to your mentor, and to the people who “have been there before,” allow them to simply cheer you on as you make the decision for yourself. You may fall either way. But I argue that it’s better to fall and learn how to build a better bridge than to fall and learn to build trust in your mentor again. Trust yourself enough to learn from yourself.