May be the number one question I am asked: "How do I find a mentor?" Usually this question is shrouded in mythology, poor assumptions, and a desire for a quick fix. Of all things, mentoring is not a fast solution to your challenges. There is this idea that "the right person" will have the answers to your career and life questions. That this guru will provide a lighted path to your salvation and success.
Great mentoring can give you insight into who you are and what you want. Great mentoring can clarify your choices and your strategies to build a more fulfilling and rewarding career and life.
Learning, acquiring knowledge and gaining insight have changed.
Just as a single book, class, website will not answer all of your questions, neither can a single person. Most people who ask me this question have created this super person in their minds–a guru available 24/7 who knows it all and can answer your questions. Like the "perfect" boyfriend/girlfriend, the perfect job and unicorns — they don't exist. I know you get this, but each of us holds out a little hope that such a person is out there. And in the end it prevents us from being mentored.
Mentoring is never just getting answers. We need multiple mentoring sources. They are not all going to be "older and wiser". They are not all going to be in your industry or field. They share your perspective, your interests and they tell you the truth. The people who you know or who you meet who are authentic and with whom YOU are authentic. It is where vulnerability and openness govern the exchange. Networking is a robust give and take. It is a dance of authenticity and vulnerability.
Perfection is always the enemy of the good.
One of the most amusing things is when I spend high quality time with someone who seeks my advice. I may have even purchased them a meal, taken time from my family….. I answer their questions, I provide real feedback and try to mentor them. I do this not because I am generous, I do it because I benefit from these interactions. I have acquired knowledge I want to and like to share. I always learn something new and it reinforces and reveals things that I need to practice. At the end of these sessions, more than half of the people ask me one of two questions.
- When can we meet again?
- Will you be my mentor?
I just tried to mentor this person! They seem more interested in checking off a box on their to-do list. GOT MENTOR. They are more interested in a mentor than the mentoring! Some even ask for a regular monthly session!
Look, I totally understand why people search for and want a mentor. But take the advice that resonates with you and do something! Fail with it. Succeed with it. Discover new stuff along the way. Then, talk to the source of the "mentoring" and ask for help to answer new questions. That's how a potential mentoring relationship is formed.
Mentoring relationships are serious relationships. They don't develop in an instant. Very few can say "She was my mentor at first sight." 😉 Mentoring like all relationships that matter evolve over time, where trust is built upon genuine efforts and the truth.
A couple of years ago, I met a parent volunteer at a school I was touring. She impressed me and inspired me with her energy and passion for her daughter's education. I asked her what she did and she told me she looking for work. I suggestsed we meet and I tried to plug her into my network. I told her to read my blog to answer any questions. The other night, I saw her at an event and I asked how she was doing. She is gainfully employed after a tough 6 month search. She was clearly happier and more confident. She cited my posts on resumes and interviewing as very helpful. She told me she would stay in touch. And I know we will. We have a mentoring relationship, but we will never call it that.
Mentoring is all around you. It is ubiquitous. Some of it you need to just breathe it in and reflect upon it. Some you need to seek. And out of that process a "mentor" may emerge. My point is when you get mentored in a moment or in a meeting–Take action. Use the mentoring, then get more mentoring. At the very least, refine your questions through experience.
Mentoring is an iterative process that requires the application of a theory. It is your theory of change. Your plan for progress. Your pursuit of happiness. If you don't have a theory, then finding mentoring or a mentor will be a frustrating experience.
It is always about the content. We seek answers not a single source.
Don't get stuck looking for the perfect mentor or even an official mentor. Find great mentoring, but don't be surprised if you do not use the M word.
Thanks for reading. John