Jana Kinsman worked as an apprentice beekeeper and goat-tender, but a lot of her advice applies well to anyone in their first job:
This isn’t your chance to prove yourself in a grandiose way. Your mentor isn’t expecting you to suddenly make their lives easier, they’re not looking for a hero or someone to throw themselves over the puddle where they’re about to walk.
This is not your opportunity to change their system or their workspace or their routine. I’ve worked with many mentors whose way of doing things was an absolute trainwreck. Inefficiencies galore, messes, unfinished projects EVERYWHERE. But it was never my responsibility to point it out to them.
When I started working in Hollywood — first as a reader, later as an assistant — I didn’t know what I was doing. I observed and tried to figure out what needed to be done, and asked as many questions as I needed to.
I quietly watched how my bosses worked, not because I wanted to become them, but because I wanted to understand how they made decisions, and how they fit into the bigger picture of the industry.
I tell people that some of the most valuable things I learned from working with mentors have been examples of how I don’t want to do things. It’s not about forcing yourself into thinking your mentor is a flawless human with a perfect way of doing things, it’s seeing their flaws and their inefficient systems and accepting them for who they are.
Often times this will give you a chance to put yourself in their shoes and look at your own future realistically: If you were doing what they were doing for as long as they’ve been doing it, would you be perfect?
You eventually realize that everyone is doing the best they can, just like you. The difference is experience, and the only way to get it is to do the work.