The Plague of the Volunteer Mentor

Is it only stubborn cynics, or does everyone bristle when a new acquaintance decrees that they are going to change your behavior? I’ve encountered a few people who seem to approach new co-workers as reform projects and it never fails to rub me the wrong way.

Whether it be basic personality, general upbringing, or some explanation beyond the nature vs. nurture arguement, I tend to embrace new colleagues slowly. After interacting with them in a reserved manner for a while, I begin to feel comfortable showing other facets of my personality – such as my appreciation for the fine art of the sarcastic comment. Often they are taken aback by this new approach, but in the end, it all settles down into a pleasant working relationship.

Proof that my methods work - me being not shy and reserved with friends from last summer in Wyoming.

Proof that my methods work – me being not shy and reserved with friends from last summer in Wyoming.

I can even deal with those people who decide that I am ‘shy’ or ‘need to come out of my shell,’ although their constant prodding can slow down the entire process. But I have met one or two people during this past year who manage to take it to a whole new level. These are the ones who, a few minutes after introductions volunteer themselves to be mentors/confidants/guides despite any signs I can project that I’m happy with my current mentors/confidants/guides.

It can be a doubly frustrating process when I know they have some knowledge that would be of use to me, but they hide it behind a condescending attitude, constant barrage of speech, and demands that I begin to follow their plan for my life immediately. I dislike feeling forced into less than gracious behavior, but when a person completely ignores polite comments and continues to press for a response, sometimes all I can find to say that will make any impression is some variation of “you’re not the boss of me.”

Friends met and made in Vail over the past winter.

Friends met and made in Vail over the past winter.

So far, in about four hours of working together, and with nearly no input from me, this new colleague has told me I need to move to New York, given me a list of celebrity chefs I need to start following, told me to watch certain documentaries, decided to give me impromptu quizzes, tried to correct my vocabularly/pronunciation, attempted to assign me food research ‘homework’, and decreed that he was ‘going to get me excited about something‘ (this last in almost despairing condescension).

Now, two days into our acquaintance, I’m stubbornly determined to never be excited around him. In many cases, my defense against people I don’t really want to talk to is monosyllabic replies and abstraction – but the volunteer mentor seems to view this simply as another facet of me that needs reform. They also seem to view a quiet person as an available audience for lectures, rather than someone avoiding converstaion. I’m still trying to determine the antidote for the plague of the volunteer, since engaging with them encourages, not engaging with them challenges them, and avoiding them can only succeed for short periods of time.

Unfortunately, the last one I ran across never seemed to catch onto to the fact that I wasn’t all that appreciative of his efforts, so my hope that there is an actual cure is slim. Fortunately, all my other co-workers and supervisors are pleasant and it’s easy working with them. If this new self-assigned mentor can manage not to argue word definitions with me again, I can probably manage to put up with his insistent interference in my life plan. But he’ll have to avoid trying to give me English vocabulary lessons, ’cause that’s just plain insulting.


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