I recently received an invitation to join a mentorship program. Although I was initially tempted to accept the invitation, I had an uneasy feeling. I therefore decided to dig deeper and think about my past experiences as a mentor and as a mentee. In the end I declined the invitation. Here’s why.

I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors who have guided me at different points in my life. Some of them continue to this very day. There are also two individuals to whom I believe I’ve been a valuable mentor, helping them make educational and career decisions that I made and learned from in the past. So I certainly believe in the value of mentorship.

However, each of these mentor-mentee relationships developed serendipitously. They arose from a personal bond based on initial shared interests and the subsequent discovery of shared values as we got to know each other better.

This informal development is in contrast to formal mentorship programs where mentees and mentors are matched by a third party through an organized application and review process. I’ve participated as a mentor and as a mentee in such programs, and in each case the relationship faded away after 2 to 3 meetings.

Based on these experiences, I believe that the best mentor-mentee relationships develop naturally. They’re sparked by a shared journey that two people are embarking on at different times, and develop into a deep bond if these two people also like spending time with each other. Trying to impose a structure on this natural development lowers the quality of the matches made and the value that both the mentee and the mentor get from the relationship.