One of my closest friends loves to complain about her job. She’s bright, creative, and could get a job anywhere if she were willing to complain less and apply more. So I was surprised to hear that when she received an exciting new offer, she turned it down. In a less-than-successful attempt to take my coach hat off and put my friend hat on, I asked, “How did you make that decision?” She told me that after talking to her parents and boyfriend, she decided it was best to stay put. It occurred to me that her staying at her job meant I was destined for a lifetime of tortured text messages. And then, in an empathetic flash, it hit me:
Wasn’t I guilty of making decisions that derailed me?
Hadn’t I turned to the people closest to me for advice whether or not they knew what they were talking about?
Before I had a mentor, hadn’t I been like everyone else who made important decisions in isolation or by crowd-sourcing answers from friends, family, and Facebook?
So what changed?
One day after a frustrating conversation with a loved one, I realized that every time I came to her, I either felt misunderstood, disappointed, or I had received crappy advice. And since I couldn’t change what came out of her mouth, I accepted that I needed to change my behavior. It was then that I vowed to only ask for advice from people who have what I want. But since Oprah wouldn’t take my calls, I decided that I needed to create a cabinet of trusted advisors. Because if the president has a team of go-to people, I should, too.
I needed a team of mentors who not only had what I wanted, but were willing to guide me. But before I could research, network, or contact anyone, I needed to get super clear on what I wanted (lest I set myself or another up for disappointment) “Mentorship” is a word that gets thrown around quite a bit. It isn’t a term for just anyone you go to for advice or support. A mentor is a well-connected, trusted, experienced, supportive, wise advisor. Most importantly, a mentor is someone who believes in your highest vision of yourself. It isn’t your parents, friends, or bed-fellows. While these people love and support you, they are not always the best sources of advice. Because convenience is not the same as competence.
Whether you’re young, old, aimless, or well-established, everyone can benefit from the wisdom and guidance of someone who’s been in their shoes. Even Oprah credits her success to her mentor, Maya Angelou. (Not too shabby!)
Because here’s the simple truth nobody talks about: None of us would be where we are without the support and guidance of someone further on their journey. My mentor has helped me by providing concrete knowledge, honest feedback, and new opportunities.
Many people ask, why would anyone want to be my mentor? The relationship benefits everyone. For example, the mentor gets the tingly feeling of gratitude for helping another, gains a new perspective, and builds on her network of like-minded people. However, not everyone is ready to be mentored or be a mentor. So think carefully and choose wisely.
If you’re seeking a mentor, make sure you are:
- Committed to becoming your best self
- Willing to communicate openly
- Ready to look at yourself honestly
- Consistent and reliable
- Capable of follow-through
- Have clear goals or are willing to set goals
- Willing to receive feedback
If you’re seeking a mentee, make sure you are:
- Generous and patient
- An excellent communicator
- Interested in sharing your knowledge and experience with others
- Clear on your values
- Honest and have integrity
- Willing to share your network
- Able to enhance someone’s self-esteem
- Able to provide emotional and professional support
- Able to act as a role model
- Passionate about teaching
The mentor and mentee should have a clear conversation to ensure they have similar goals, values, and a vision for what the relationship will look like.
For those seeking support who need accountability, consistent communication, or motivation, mentorship may not provide you with the relationship or results that you want. And that’s okay! Find an accountability buddy or coach who will provide the structure you need to set you up for success. Once that’s in place, you’ll have the personal systems you need to make the most of a mentoring partnership.
When seeking guidance, don’t sacrifice competence for convenience. Find mentors who will guide and support your journey.