I am often asked whether I had any mentors when I was younger, but it's less common to be asked about what I will call anti-mentors: people who actively try to discourage you, but not out of kindness or wisdom. Perhaps I will write a relentlessly upbeat posting soon to balance these negative ones, but in the meantime -
My thoughts have turned to anti-mentors in part because of the occasion this week of the 80th birthday of one of the most virulent ones I have encountered in my life. I have had 2 notable anti-mentors, and one died 20 years ago. This is the other one. I was told recently that it would "mean a lot" to this person if I acknowledged his birthday, but there don't seem to be any birthday cards that quite express the depth of my loathing and contempt for this person, and I don't want to waste my time to make a suitable card. Furthermore, if I did send a happy little card with fond birthday wishes, he would take it as his due as a Great Man that even people he tried to crush pay him homage. No thanks.
I think that anti-mentors can be useful, to a limited extent. Of course life would be better without them, but in my own experience, the unfairness of it all and the anger I felt at how I was treated by them gave me an extra bit of motivation to succeed. It would be devastating if someone I respected had told me I was stupid and was never going to be a professor, but I didn't respect these people. "I'll show them.." isn't the purest of motivations, and it's not enough to get you where you want to go if you don't also love what you're doing (despite the jerks), but, even so, it can push you along at times.
12 years ago