Are you mentoring or meddling? A trick question for any parent, friend, colleague or elder. Here’s how to tell.

You are mentoring if you use your experience to guide someone who is less experienced. The aim is to help the less experienced person to play a “better” role or to lead a “better” life.

And there’s the catch! What is “better”?

And that’s where meddling comes in. Meddling happens because you don’t know what “better” is. You meddle when you try to change or to control what you see as “wrong” or inappropriate for the other person. (Actually, you meddle when you try to control the nonsense you see in another person’s life. )

On the other hand, you mentor when you nudge and support the other person into making meaningful life choices, appropriate to her situation and circumstances, not to yours.

Can you only mentor if you have already mastered? Please don’t believe it. We teach best that which we have yet to learn.

To be a good mentor, what matters are the mistakes you are still making. But only if you admit that they are mistakes.

Finally, if you believe you must be a master before you can mentor, you will be nervous of being a mentor to someone who needs it, from you.