In movies like Coach Carter and Remember the Titans, when the team is out of their depth and in need of direction, the coach comes in to pick up the team and set them right. Career mentors do the same thing. When you feel lost in your career, a mentor will be there to remind you what you’re fighting for and suggest how to get it. The greatest mentors will open doors to help you succeed.
Having great mentors is the best way for you to get your career moving and reach your goals as fast as possible. But, for many, finding a mentor seems like an awkward endeavor.
If you think finding a career mentor feels awkward, there’s a good chance you aren’t doing it right. Developing mentor/mentee relationships should feel as easy and fun as developing a friendship. Approaching possible mentors with this mentality makes all the difference.
Seek Out Friends, Not Mentors
Stop seeking out a mentor altogether. The entire idea of molding another person’s career, of being a mentor, sounds exhausting. Go ahead and imagine taking time from your busy day to develop someone else’s career.
People are too busy developing their own career to respond to your plea that they take time help develop yours.
Rather than seeking out a mentor, it’s better to focus on simply touching base with others in the career you want to pursue. Then, after touching base, focus on creating friendships. Offer praise and seek advice, but never say “Will you mentor me?” Instead, become people’s friend and let those friendships grow into relationships that will grant you insight and education. These friends will mentor you without the title that makes the interaction feel like work.
Focus on Giving, Not Getting
Most people won’t want to stop what they’re doing to help you get a career underway. Doing so is difficult and takes a lot of time. On top of this, a lot of people asking for mentors aren’t worth the time. They’ll turn out to be lazy or incompetent, and only serve to add frustration to their mentor’s life. Harsh, but true.
This is why, rather than asking for something, it’s better to give something instead. What you have to offer will be unique to you. You may give insight, praise, or you may be able to offer an expertise you already have.
When I started reaching out for my career as a writer, I gave the only thing I felt I could offer. A lot of praise. It was all genuine, but offering honest praise meant that I had to contact writers I truly admired. The risk of that rejection was scary, and I was lucky that all the writers I contacted for advice were responsive and eager to help a loyal reader get started.
Instead of contacting someone with the request for help, offer them something. Make your request secondary and they’ll appreciate that you’re putting them first.
Build Slowly, Don’t Rush It
Mentorship. It just sounds formal, doesn’t it? Like something you pay $20 an hour for. But by now, you know that effective mentoring shouldn’t be like that! You know that mentorships should be friendships, and friendships don’t develop from a single email or a 10 minute introduction. Instead, they develop slowly through continued interaction. Building a strong relationship is about offering praise, asking for advice, and discussing your ideas over time.
It’s slow, it requires restraint (especially when you’re approaching your role models), and it requires tact. But slowly-built relationships, made from occasional monthly emails or phone calls, are more versatile and reliable than relationships made from a collection of questions asked via cold call. So go slow: you have your whole life to succeed; don’t sabotage that success by rushing an important relationship.
Remember There Are Other Ways
Taking it slow can drive you insane. I know because I’ve been there. You want a mentor so you can get coffee and spend hours picking their brains. But rushing a friendship with a mentor, and relying too heavily on them in the beginning, is a surefire way to push a mentor away. Instead of relying solely on someone to mentor you, it helps to use other resources to learn as you let your relationship incubate.
Books – Books are amazing tools when it comes to learning, and I already touched on the importance of reading in How to Remember More of What You Read. But it can’t be overstated.
Forums – These give you the opportunity to learn from others. You gain a sort of proto-mentorship, and you can see what problems others in your desired field are having. It’s always easier to learn from the mistakes of others, and this is a great mentor substitute.
Courses – Courses are a double whammy because you develop important knowledge while bolstering your resume and/or portfolio by gaining a new credential in the form of that course. Also, there are courses for everything! A quick Google search may blow your mind in terms of the number of possible courses there are out there.
Return the Favor
Finally, after you’ve gotten a mentor and your relationship is solidified, make sure to remember these times when you’re down the road. Someday someone will be asking for your help. Remember when you felt lost and don’t let your success and busy schedule keep you from offering the helping hand you needed at one point in your life.
Mentoring not only grows the mentee, but it grows the mentor as well.
Do you have a mentor? How did the two of you develop your relationship? What tips do you have for other people looking for a mentor in their desired field?