a better question.

I’m an unabashed fan of mentoring and connecting. I build time for both into my schedule. And I urge others to, as well. Based on my constant experience that mentoring is as rich an experience for the mentor as mentee, if you put your heart into it. And you simply never know where connecting with others will lead — it’s often somewhere not really obvious, but surprisingly good.

So I’m facing a bit of a conundrum at the moment. Because I keep coming across people who ask a single question when faced with a mentoring or connecting opportunity. The question: WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

The first time I encountered this question, I wrote it off as specific to that person, that situation.

The second time, I pondered …

Most recently, I was pretty much smacked in the face with it. A person I admire and respect professionally said: “I don’t respond to attempts at connecting or networking unless it benefits me.” This person went on to elaborate that if the benefit appeared to be one-way, favoring the other person, then the connection was ignored.

I suppressed the urge to ask some rhetorical questions of this person. The person is a professional. In a position to “connect” with a lot of people. Perhaps this person truly is just too busy to deal with such connections that don’t have an obvious benefit.

But if everyone is following this path, then I fear the undoing of a culture that should be encouraged rather than destroyed. A culture of helping those who are following in our footsteps. This is especially so in the legal profession, where well-developed mentoring programs are scarce, even in larger firms. They’re nonexistent for most of the attorneys who most need them – solos and those in small firms.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship. And for the past few years, I’ve been on the giving end. I can’t imagine how I would’ve gotten through some pretty sticky situations but for the generosity of others who were willing to share their time and wisdom. And the words of thanks I’ve received from mentees makes it clear that I’ve made a tremendous difference for them, even if only by taking five minutes to offer an opinion.

Our time is precious and limited. But we’re not so precious — and let’s not be so limited — to seek connections only when there’s a tangible benefit to be had.

If you’re too busy or view your time as too important, then I must suggest that your priorities and time management skills may be a bit askew.

Let’s try this question instead: “How can I help?”