The Difference Between a Friend and a Mentor

What can a mentor do for you?

There are times in your life where you will come across someone who gives you advice, makes you feel better about life, and sets you on the right path. You might wonder if that person is a friend, mentor, or both. Here are some thoughts on why you need to distinguish the difference between a friend and a mentor, and why each type of person is beneficial to your well being.

Mentors Give Advice and Share Wisdom

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In a mentoring situation, one person has the advantage in some way, usually with their age and experience level. A mentor has already been through the same situations you are currently dealing with, and they share their wisdom based on the things they have experienced. Mentors help you at work, assist you in life choices, and gently guide you as you pursue your goals.

Friends Have Common Interests

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Generally, friendships develop slowly over time because two people share a common interest of some type. Even if their interest is as simple as "trying new restaurants" or "trying to keep busy," friends develop a bond by spending time together and pursuing activities they both enjoy. Friendships can be with people of different age groups, coworkers, or folks you meet in a group setting (like church or school).

Use Caution When Assuming Your Mentor Is a Friend

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You may feel appreciation and even affection for your mentor, but use caution when assuming they are your friend. You may be setting yourself up for unnecessary hurt and disappointment by making a leap about the state of your relationship. To know if your mentor is a friend, ask yourself:

  • Do I spend time with this person outside of our mentoring relationship?
  • Do I provide wisdom and mentoring as well as receive it?
  • Is this someone who would consider me a friend?
  • Has my mentor told me that they appreciate my friendship?

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, chances are your mentor doesn't consider you a friend.

Mentors Can Become Friends

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Early on, a mentoring relationship might feel a lot like a friendship. After all, you may spend time together, enjoy the same hobbies or activities, and have a lot in common. But a mentor generally doesn't become a friend until the two of you are closer to equal footing. You will gain experience, and as you do, your mentor will develop a different kind of appreciation for you that will center on the person you currently are rather than the one you are still trying to be. When that happens, a friendship may develop.