Mentoring the Mediocre

For a long time now, I have not been discerning about whom I teach. The gifted, talented and brilliant naturally find equally competent teachers who wish to mentor, tutor and grow with them. Not so for those who lack such qualities.

I used to think there was a sense of unfairness about the whole thing – the brilliant became more brilliant, whilst the rest i.e., the mediocre, the less talented, the stupid, the ‘unawakened’, were left to languish in their mediocrity or incompetence, without ever having the opportunity to learn from such teachers. For ease, I will call the collective latter ‘the mediocre’.

Because of that, I often went out of my way to take on the mediocre under my wing. I stood guard outside the gates of the palace of brilliance for the less fortunate masses, hoping to sneak a few of them in. I did that in the hope of sparking something in their hearts, inspiring them to walk the higher roads, instilling fire into their bellies and refining their minds. I took on those with empty CVs, poor language and pathetic abilities. I saw myself in some of them. I did not have much about myself when I first passed through the gates of legal practice.

I wanted to find that diamond in the rough that nobody ever saw and polish it until it shone. I yearned to discover the one under everyone’s nose that was dismissed without much consideration. I hoped very much for the one everyone wrote off as an idiot but was, in truth, a genius. I was willing to spend serious time, effort and even money to develop them.

My father has always been for the underdog, and that has rubbed off on me in no small way. Woof. Taking on the mediocre harmonized with my idea of championing the marginalized, the unheard and the unseen.

In taking them on, I did not think of myself as a great teacher or outstanding mentor. I merely possessed some meagre abilities, genuine enthusiasm for the law and a handful of insights I felt could make a positive impact on them. Plus, I enjoyed teaching. I saw it as my contribution to those who lost out on such learning opportunities.

But now, I am done with the mediocre. I finally admitted to myself that with the mediocre I cannot do anything with or about, and I should not waste my time with them. There is a reason why they are mediocre and remained so whilst impervious to any attempt at improvement or refinement.

I kept that thought at bay for a long time because I found it offensive and unfair. But it is offensive because it is true, and the truth hurts and offends as no lie can. People think the truth is beautiful, but it only is when it serves our interests or exonerates us from a web of lies. Most times the truth is messy, offensive, unfair and painful.

As for unfairness, life is inherently and patently unfair. That guy was born to royalty. This guy had poor parents. That girl was born with great beauty and a radiant personality. This girl was born with a severe congenital disease. There is no fairness in nature. Only in our heads.

Fairness is a human instinct but a subjective one. Your idea or measurement of fairness differs from mine. I may think I should get the lion’s share of something because I contributed the most. You may think I should get less notwithstanding my efforts because I had it good for most of my life. We use the same term, but we mean different things. Sometimes our meanings and measurements align but those are serendipitous occasions, not regular ones.

Life is only fair when we make it so. And we have to work very, very hard and invest a lot of effort and resources to create and maintain a transient moment of fairness. So fairness is not for the passive, the disinterested and the unworthy. If we are not willing to work hard, invest smart and commit to refinement, we don’t deserve anything, least of all fairness.

The mediocre can be generally divided into two: the incapable and the disinterested.

The incapable simply are unable to improve because they cannot. Their natural limitations to refinement and improvement are great. As a friend of mine once said of a pupil she had, Some of these fellas are in the basement with no elevator up. As much as we like to believe all of us have potential, the truth is, no, some of us just don’t have potential.

The disinterested are those unwilling or do not care to improve themselves. They can improve, but they won’t or don’t. Most times, the disinterested are that way because they have no genuine interest in the profession or the learning and work that comes with it. The disinterested tend to be more comfortable in the secondary aspects of legal practice than the primary aspects of legal practice.

By secondary aspect, I mean, for example, marketing. The disinterested are the ones we see constantly selling themselves, preening on social media, creating videos glamourizing legal life and assiduously attending social functions than refining their legal knowledge, thinking and skills.

The disinterested would rather do that or anything else than sit quietly with the law, which is a primary aspect of legal practice. Of if they did so, someone has to be there filming it. The disinterested are the types that can tell us how much we should be paying them even when they cannot string a sensible sentence in any language.

After about 20 years of scouring the mediocre for talent, I can confidently say, I have found none there. Part of me feels I wasted a good part of my life trying to grow crops in barren lands. All the mediocre have done for me is frustrate me, enervate me and waste my time, energy and efforts.

These last few years have fortuitously brought some talents through our firm doors. I cannot express how joyful and pleasurable it is to be in the company of people who have a genuine interest in law, possess a talent for the law and looking to grow in the legal profession – the savants. Discussions about the law within and without our work are high quality, creative and insightful.

The difference between ‘teaching’ the talented and the mediocre is the difference between flying in the clouds and being hauled through the mud.

Since I am in the second half of my life, I have resolved not to waste any more time with the mediocre. One can’t, the other won’t. Both are a waste of time and effort.

My advice to them is to consider another profession, trade or business because the law and legal practice are obviously not for them. I will not be the least surprised if they find success and their talent elsewhere.

I have read about how some people left legal practice to start up bakeries, wellness centres and other businesses and went on to be successful at it. That is evidence they have some talent, it’s just that it lies elsewhere.

Just because we are mediocre in the law and legal practice does not mean we are mediocre at everything else. It means we have not found our niche in life and need to keep looking. Not everyone is made for the law and legal practice.

Leave a comment