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The Lies My Mentor Told Me

Written by: Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


When I started climbing the corporate ladder, I knew I needed mentors along the way. I wanted people who could show me the ropes. The people who could teach me what they knew. Even though I’ve had a few memorable mentors along the way, I didn’t get what I had expected. In fact, I was disappointed a lot. Instead of the growth experience, I thought I was getting, I got advice that was detrimental to my career. Advice that holds women back rather than helps us move forward. And it wasn’t always from male mentors. Sometimes women would give me bad advice because that’s what they heard from their mentors. They were just passing along the bias without realizing what they were saying.

It’s hard to find a good mentor

They say that it’s hard to find a good mentor. I would challenge that it’s nearly impossible because you’re looking in the wrong place. I had hoped my mentors would serve a bigger role than they did. I wanted someone to help me get better. I wanted a mentor to help me see my blind spots and show me how to become the best version of myself.

But that’s really not fair to ask of them. Where our corporate mentors can really help us to better understand our organizations, nuances of personalities, and how to navigate the structure. When we ask more than that we are risking getting some bad advice. Because it’s just that one person’s experience. An experience that is loaded with their own personal biases. Their own insecurities will guide what advice they give you.

So if your mentor is afraid to speak up, they are going to advise you to listen before you talk. If your mentor is afraid to deal with a specific person, they might advise you to avoid that person. Do you see what I’m saying? Your mentor’s advice is loaded with a lot of noise that’s not about you. You’ve got to be able to sift through that noise to figure out what is helpful for you.

Terrible advice my mentor gave me

1. Don’t rock the boat

When you get this advice it’s usually a warning not to upset a particular person or it will get really uncomfortable. Mentors who give this advice have experienced a negative impact when speaking up. It may be something they’ve experienced personally or witnessed in others. The bottom line is that your mentor is afraid to rock the boat, so they are advising you the same.

Here’s the thing: Discomfort is necessary for change. If you're not shaking things up once in a while, you are perpetuating the status quo. Maybe that’s fine for you, but if you’re a leader and responsible for the forward movement of your organization, then you better rock that boat. So, rather than taking the advice not to rock the boat, use this information to determine the best way to get people on board with the change.

2. Listen and learn before contributing (a.k.a. Shut up and listen)

I worked for an organization once that handed me a new employee booklet on my first day. Within the first few paragraphs was advice about how to conform to the culture. There was specific advice about not offering ideas for the first 90 days. WHAT?!?

The culture was very conservative and ran deep across a large employee base. So it’s important to understand that in a culture like this, you have to alter your approach or they’ll write you off. On the surface the advice is “shut up and listen”, but the real information you need here is that this culture needs a gentle approach.

When mentors give this advice, it’s usually rooted in past experiences when others have come into an established team and tried to change everything. The message here is please listen and understand us before you try to change things.

If you try to push your ideas onto an unwilling crowd, it won’t work. If you understand them and build connections, then your contributions will always be appreciated. The problem is that too many people take this advice as “the rules” and literally just listen for far too long. The other side of this coin is that when you are new to a team and you stay too quiet people are going to start to wonder if you can handle the job.

This is a huge blow to your credibility. I would rather have you navigate some uncomfortable dialogue and work the team through that change, than sit on the sidelines while people decide you don’t have anything valuable to add.

3. Bloom where you are planted

This is one of the most frustrating pieces of advice I’ve ever received. On the surface this sounds nice. And there is some truth to mastering a new area, relationships, and skills before you move on. But this advice is usually mishandled. I’ve seen a lot of women given this advice in an attempt to dampen their ambition. It comes from people often having their own agenda. They may want you to stay in this job because they would have to replace you and that’s just a headache. Or they don’t understand why you would want something more. Your ambition might be unfamiliar to them so they discount it.

A mentor who gives this advice may personally be unhappy in their career, but they don’t see any other options. So they will tell you what they’ve been telling themselves for months/years. Or your dreams might just be bigger than theirs. They don’t understand your drive for more. There’s nothing wrong with that, just recognize that the advice is not really about you. It’s about them.

4. Just work hard, and you’ll be successful

This one is a special warning for ambitious women. We are often told that good work is all that’s needed. I got this advice from men all the time. The thing is…for women it’s not that simple. Yes, we need to do good work. But that’s not enough. We also need to overcome biases. We are often held to higher standards. We are expected to prove ourselves, sometimes for years, before we can earn the promotion that is so easily granted to men who show ‘potential’.

I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but women need to do more than just good work to succeed in the corporate world. To really understand this, let’s take a good look at how people are recognized and rewarded for their value.

Whether you are climbing the corporate ladder or in business for yourself, you have to build trust with the people who will give you a chance to shine. That might be the CEO who is going to hire you as their next c-suite leader or the customer who’s going to say YES to the big contract with you.

Trust is harder to build when someone has preconceived, limiting beliefs about what you can do. Women have to work harder to prove themselves because they have to not only show what they can do but also overcome the limiting beliefs that other people have about them as women.

Limiting beliefs like:

Women are too emotional to make good decisions.

Women aren’t good with numbers.

Women with families can’t be committed to the pace of this work.

Do you see it? We don’t often hear people say these words out loud anymore, but they are still thinking about them. These are the hurdles that women have to overcome. So, when you consider how you want to lead and the kind of success you want in your life, you’ve got to be able to look at how you approach your work more than just working harder.

This is bad advice because it disregards the hurdles that women face and sends a lot of women chasing the next skill set rather than focusing their growth on the things that really matter; like their drive, clarity and confidence.

I would rather see a woman work on building confidence for 90 days than tackle another certification. Building confidence and showing up in a self-assured manner will earn you a ton more credibility than that certificate ever will!


So should you fire your mentor? Hell no! Your mentor can be a great source of support and guidance. Just understand the limitations. Understand they have their own insecurities that might come into the conversations.

Take what you can.

Leave what you will.

Take full responsibility for your growth

And at the end of the day, you must own your personal and professional development. Take full responsibility for your growth. Go inward for wisdom. Seek skilled coaches who can help you grow into the person you want to be.

Accept that your journey is unique. Embrace the beauty in the journey and welcome the learning. No dream is too big. The only limitations are the ones you place on yourself. So when you get advice from a mentor or even a well-meaning colleague…Take it with a grain of salt. And do what you know in your heart is right for you.


Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Nicky Espinosa is a leadership expert and executive coach specializing in supporting women executives to reach their full potential. She is a former healthcare executive, author, and professional speaker with 20+ years of senior leadership experience. She is on a mission to close the gender gap in the C-suite by empowering women to confidently level the playing field.



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