The Art of Apprenticeship

July 19, 2012

Fresh out of college, you have no idea what you’re doing. This fact is true no matter how much you paid for you college education, where you went, what your GPA was, or what Latin title was bestowed upon graduation. You have no clue, because you’ve never had a real job – this is your first. The number one gauge of being good at a job is experience in doing that job, and you have none. You may think that your college education is an indicator of how quickly you will master your job, but there is no correlation. It might actually work against you, because if you believe you already know everything you won’t be open to learning anything. If you want to get good at a job and you have no experience, you’ll need to apprentice under someone who can show you the ropes.

Selecting a good mentor to apprentice under is critical to your long term success. If you pick the wrong one, you will be mistrained, which will cripple the rest of your career. Without a gauge as to who is good at their job and who isn’t, selecting a mentor is a difficult process. Over time, as your knowledge of what makes a good mentor improves, you may end up switching mentors, but you still need to pick the first one. You want someone who will continually push you to the next level by forcing you outside of your comfort zone. You also want someone who can be frank without being cruel, so that you will be given good advice while still having the motivation to listen to it. Still, even if you do find someone who would make a good mentor, there’s no guarantee that they will want to take you on as their apprentice.

To convince someone to be your mentor you have to demonstrate your willingness to be subjugated. Today, the word “subjugate” has fallen out of favor due to it’s negative connotations, but it is accurate in describing the superior/subordinate relationship of master/apprentice. Someone has to direct, the other has to follow, or it doesn’t work. Subjugation means following what you are directed to do, and – at times – without question. If you are unwilling to do this, you are not ready to be someones apprentice. Knowing that you are entering into a relationship of subjugation, the pressure is on you to find someone that you respect so deeply that being subjugated under them fills you with a sense of pride. In the tough days to follow, this alone may be all you have to keep you from quitting, and making to all-too-common mistake of attempting to learn a job on your own.

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