What’s in it for the mentor? Seinfeld (and others) explain.

by Jean Rhodes

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, a puzzled George asks Jerry what a mentor is. “The mentor advises the protégé” says Jerry, and the mentor derives “respect, admiration, prestige.” “Is there any money involved?,” asks George,”would the protégé pick up stuff for the mentor?..laundry, dry cleaning?””It’s a protégé, not a valet!” answers Jerry. Absurdity aside, George does raise some interesting questions. For example, should mentors ever be compensated for their time and effort? And, more generally, “what’s in it for the mentor?” Fortunately, we have many experts who have weighed in.

George, the quintessential self-absorbed young adult, was focused on maximizing his own happiness and satisfaction. But, as Professor Edward Diener concluded in the  documentary Happy, that “If you only seek your own happiness it can be kind of a selfish thing. But once you move to the spiritual emotions and worry about the well being of others, your life grows…you can, in a way, transcend your own life and death by caring about things that are bigger than yourself.” Although this study (below) is focused on charitable giving, many of the arguments are the same for mentoring.

Likewise, neuropsychologist Richard Davison has found that altruistic behaviors can actually release endorphins in our brains and make us happier.  He argues that, if each of us spent time cultivating “various qualities like compassion and altruism the world would be a better place and we’d all be transforming our brains in very positive ways.”

In a  2013 study, which appeared in the American Journal of Community Psychology, Lindsey Weiler and colleagues surveyed students in a structured, service-learning course to examine the benefits that college students derive from mentoring at-risk youth within a structured, service-learning course, Campus Corps, a youth mentoring program. Compared to students who didn’t mentor, those who did had had significantly higher scores at post-intervention regarding mentors’ civic attitudes, community service self-efficacy, self-esteem, interpersonal and problem solving skills, political awareness, and civic action. Other studies have found career benefits following participation in workplace mentoring. 

Need more evidence? Let’s count the ways …