One of the repetitive tips a business student receives from guest speakers, motivators and profs is to “find yourself a mentor.” It sounds great, they mean well, but how many of us actively pursued finding a mentor? Few. Very few.
Finding a mentor to me brought visions of intimidating power-suited, stiletto-clicking, smart-talking, out-of-my-league accomplishing women who would look at someone like me and say, “Oh dah-ling, by your age I had already become VP of Fabulously Enviable International Ventures and managed a staff of for-tay.”
The sheer fear of having to approach an older, wiser, more accomplished adult was almost overwhelming. So many of us try to seek advice and support in more passive avenues. We attend networking events, we might chat with profs during office hours, and if we are feeling slightly brave, might go up to the guest speaker after the presentation and personally ask a few questions. All of these are great things to do, but when it comes to personal support, these other avenues don’t even hold a candle to the kind of empowerment that comes with having a mentor.
Hundreds of articles have been written about the benefits of mentors which most often include networks, accountability and refining skills. While all these benefits are true, I want to share what I believe to be most compelling, at-the-heart-of-the-matter benefits of having a mentor.
Confidence to pursue goals and believe in my ability to accomplish things has by far been the most rewarding aspect of having a mentor. When I say confidence I don’t mean arrogance, I mean that inner conviction that you have what it takes, you trust in your abilities, and your ideas are worth hearing. Having a mentor who not only models confidence, but teaches me how to be confident has been indispensable. Every time I come home after dinner with my mentor I am on such a high that I fly into our condo and announce just how excited I am to take on the world. Poor Howie doesn’t understand sometimes, “Babe! I’ve been telling you for weeks that you can do it! I think you’re the smartest person in the world! How come you believe her when she says it and not me?!” Well Howie, you kind of have to think I’m amazing, my mentor doesn’t. So as unfair as it is to Howie, encouragement from a super cool non-family member looking in on your life can sometimes be the missing key to finally having the confidence to go for it. Confidence turns ideas and goals into action and reality.
Sometimes our generation is in such a rush to have it all and have it fast that we like to downplay our weaknesses. We fear showing a chink in our armour lest we be judged as incompetent and incapable. My mentor created a space where I didn’t have to be “on” all the time. By being comfortable I could be honest about myself, my career, and we were able to have genuine, authentic conversations. She imparted years of wisdom on a number of issues that had secretly worried and stressed me out for years. One being that for my entire life I’ve felt all over the place with my roles, my interests, and stressed about the fact I wasn’t honing in and focusing on developing one specific expert ability (like they tell us all to do in business school). She looked at me and said, “Cheryl, the person who told us we all need to spend thousands of hours becoming an expert was a man who probably couldn’t multi-task. It isn’t true. It’s the people who have depth and breadth that are the visionaries and leaders. They understand how things relate from a top-level perspective. They are the people that manage the experts.” I can’t explain how liberating that was to hear.
3. A Plan
If you find a good mentor, he or she will invest time in you for life. You may not meet so frequently all the time, but the relationship will always be there. A mentor genuinely cares about your future and will want to help you articulate your goals and the steps you need to take now to reach your goals. How often do we set time aside for ourselves to map out what we want to do in five years? Ten years? Twenty? Probably not often. And with a mentor this is exactly what you do. Plus, they open a lot of doors to help you get there.
4. A Sounding Board
Mentors provide an outsider’s perspective on the issues you face. They aren’t your boss, they aren’t your spouse, they aren’t your parents. They are unbiased, they have been there, and they get it. Mentors are the ultimate people you want to tell your most out-there, crazy ideas to because they will tell you the truth. They will tell you if there’s an element about your idea you should go for, and they help you consider ideas from perspectives you would have never thought. From how to implement a new marketing strategy, to managing people, to managing work-life balance, and initiating uncomfortable conversations, your mentor is the Mickey* in your corner.
Ultimately the decision to pursue a mentor-relationship is entirely up to you. For some people, they will not see the need or will not be able to get over the fear of approaching a potential mentor. But for those of you who are serious about carving out an exceptionally successful life and/or career, mentorship is absolutely key.
Think about it… where would Luke be without Yoda? Bieber without Usher? Harry without Dumbledore? Zuckerberg without Andreessen? Jagr without Lemieux? Neo without Morpheus? Almost every great leader (fiction and non-fiction) had a mentor. Mentorship is so worthwhile. It’s worth your time to make it happen.
Thoughts on mentorship? Am I overestimating its value?
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* Mickey: Are you serious? You’ve never watched Rocky?! Go and educate yourself immediately by watching this.
Next post, look forward to some tips on how to find a good mentor!
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