It rings as if it were some nonchalant item on a twenty-something’s harping to-do list: find a mentor. But as with everything “grown up,” this is another must-have that doesn’t arrive in a neatly packaged chapter in the “how to grow up without messing it all up” manual.
In my head, I almost even picture this mystery person as if she were Professor McGonagall (guilty Harry Potter reference). Or as if this is someone you ask out on a date or sorts and at the end of the night, pop a along the lines of question of “will you help answer all of life’s mysteries for some elusive career advancement?” Shockingly, that’s not real life.
I’ve been incredibly grateful to have several wonderful people I happily call mentors cross my path over the past few years, and I hope someday I’ll be able to give the same advice and guidance in return.
So what should I look for in a mentor?
It probably starts with the people you work with. One of my biggest cheerleaders was a colleague who always had a open door. During my first few years at Engauge, I spent hours in her office each week, trading ideas, asking questions and having her explain how she reached client-related conclusions. Did she hand over the keys to success in a pretty blue box? No. Did she push me to be more confident and trusting of my own work? Yes. Did she make me smarter in the process? Absolutely.
Find your cheerleaders. Someone who will cheer you on and build up your expertise, not through questioning alone, but as a partnership.
Don’t be afraid to step outside of your industry. A mentor isn’t always someone who understands your lingo or speaks in the same client acronyms. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a women-only leadership program and it was phenomenal. Read more on that here. The most valuable pieces of the program however were the PEER mentorship opportunities. You can be a lawyer, working in manufacturing, or advertising, but you most likely have many of the same questions, the same doubts and the same what-ifs when it comes to managing a career.
Find people who don’t simply get your work, but who also get you. Sometimes a “the same thing happened to me” conversation can be the best support manual there is.
The real secret magic fairy dust? It starts with friendship. In reality, a mentorship shouldn’t be a formal program of sorts for the next few decades, it should be a mutual relationship and it probably starts with a cup of coffee (or in my case, hot chocolate). Finding someone you are comfortable with both personally and professionally, though rare, is insurmountable. When it comes time to ask for advice, you want someone on your side who not only gets your resume, but also gets you for who you are, not the job description you have in hand.
Find someone who you can trust to value more than just your job. Finding someone that remarkable might even feel like winning the lottery.
In the end, there isn’t some magic formula. There isn’t a mentor dating service. There are only the people you surround yourself with, the relationships you develop, and like everything else, we have to seek to build those relationships one day at a time.
PS that leadership program? They are enrolling for the fall class currently, check it out.