4 Mentoring Lessons Gen Z Can Take From The Karate Kid Trilogy and Cobra Kai


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Watching the last season of Cobra Kai (season 5), I saw huge mentorship takeaways throughout the show. In combination with The Karate Kid trilogy, I thought it would be helpful to share these lessons with Gen Z as they begin their careers amid the pandemic and continue to navigate remote, hybrid, or in-person work. Here are four mentorship lessons for Gen Z below (note: this post contains spoilers for Cobra Kai).

1. Choose the right mentor for you

The return of Terry Silver’s character (driven by greed and deceit – some of us can see this in the corporate world), teaches that you need to choose a mentor with high integrity and values ​​aligned with the yours but whose strengths complement your weaknesses. For example, having a risk-averse mentor will help you see what you can’t anticipate if you’re risk-averse. Also, it is very important to make sure that your mentor is not overworked. Sometimes mentors are voluntarily told to participate in mentoring programs, but are too busy to put in even minimal effort. Don’t get discouraged and do your best to make it happen, but look for an informal mentor with the time and energy to guide you on your career path.

Related: The 6 Most Important Traits To Look For When Choosing A Mentor

2. Mentors are human too

In Cobra Kai, karate instructors (senseis) Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence constantly struggle with their core values ​​throughout the series. Daniel works through the pain he endured from being bullied by Johnny and the rest of the Cobra Kai gang. Johnny struggles with his life choices (giving up his child and doing odd jobs), becoming a karate sensei and getting a second chance at being a good father. This lesson translates very well to the corporate world. We don’t know what is going on in the lives of our mentors; instead of putting them on a pedestal, we have to be patient and understand that they are human beings like us and that they haven’t always understood everything. Also, there is no secret manual given to mentors on how to be successful.

3. Be willing to learn and work hard

As we saw in the Karate Kid trilogy and Cobra Kai, it took a lot of hard work and a growth mindset for the protagonists to succeed (Eagle Fang + Miyagi Do = International Sekai Taikai Tournament entry). I researched the reasons mentoring programs or relationships break down when I was developing a mentoring program for a professional association to avoid mentoring failures. One of the main causes of mentoring relationships and failed mentoring programs is that mentees are not prepared to learn or work hard, and they allow the relationship to deteriorate. I have witnessed this issue first hand, although we have done our best to prevent this from happening. Google is one of the best tools Gen Z has that we didn’t grow up with. A simple Google search for “Questions to Ask My Mentor” will give you tons of results and tips.

Related: Why Does Mentoring Fail and How to Prevent It?

4. Wax on, wax off: connect the work to the goal

One of the best (and most memorable) scenes in The Karate Kid That’s when Mr. Miyagi asked Daniel LaRusso to mindlessly paint his fence and wax his cars. Daniel finally had enough and said he wanted to learn karate, not work for free. Once he started running away, Mr. Miyagi showed him that he was creating muscle memory so he could block punches and kicks. Not much has changed since the release of this film: we need to understand, as mentees, employees and even family members, how the work we do fits into the overall framework/purpose to which we devote our time and our energy. We also need to understand that being patient and trusting the process can sometimes lead to tremendous growth.

If you’re reading this and don’t have a mentor, don’t worry, you’re fine! I didn’t have my first mentor until I did an internship for one of my professors in business school, and he had a profound impact on my life; we still eat lunch frequently to this day. A few tips I give my undergrads (in addition to the four above) are to reach out to people you admire (on or off the job) and ask if they’re available for lunch. to learn more about how they got to where they are today. If they’re too busy for lunch, ask if they’re available for a quick 15-minute zoom or a coffee. Don’t take it personally if they decline, but follow up with them every two months to see if they are available.

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor

As you navigate the new world of remote, hybrid, or in-person work, be vulnerable and proactive by reaching out to someone you respect to help mentor you and acclimate to your company culture. Make sure you choose the right mentor, be patient, be willing to learn and work hard, and ask yourself how your job contributes to the bigger picture. If the person you want to be your mentor is too busy, move on to someone who has the time and passion to help you. Finally, don’t forget to pay it forward and dedicate your time to mentoring others (preferably while listening to “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito).

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