The idea of finding the right mentor can be daunting. First, you have to clearly define your goal. Then you need to find someone who has mastered the skills required to achieve your objective. And finally, you have to convince them to take you under their wing. Whew!
Add to that, having to persuade someone to act as your mentor may feel risky. For some people, the stereotype of “mentor” and “mentee” brings the notion of the mentor transferring their wisdom of “how it is” to the mentee; a one-way arrangement rather than a relationship of peers. This can inhibit free expression and can result in a person feeling indebted to their mentor or owing them a contrived allegiance.
Not to mention, what worked for a mentor may not work for you. Given the accelerated pace of today’s corporate cultures and technologies, the steps that created success 10-20 years ago are likely quite different from the experiences and skills relevant to your situation. Your path to your career goal may not resemble the route a mentor chose.
Rather than seeking guidance from one expert who is limited to one set of opinions and insights, why not look to several people for inspiration. You may already see another person working on your same goal right now. Study their process and find what strikes you as helpful and not helpful. Ask questions pertaining to their decision-making and their results. You’ll feel more confident in your own capabilities as you become steadily more aware of the various facets involved in achieving your goal.
Mentors come in a variety of forms. Doesn’t it make more sense to take advantage of a wealth of resources rather than rely on one particular person when you need advice or instruction? Having a diversified base of expertise and knowledge is ideal, especially given that nobody can know everything. Learning about different perspectives honed through diverse life experiences is invaluable. And keep in mind that it is to your advantage to look for people of all ages, races, career levels, and backgrounds. You’ll gain insights that will allow you to get a bigger picture of your own goals and the variety of paths available to achieve them.
The good news is that you already have mentors. A mentor does not have to be someone at the pinnacle of success in their field. A mentor is anyone who has shaped your actions: a parent, a friend, a teacher, someone who you work for, or someone who works for you. If you stop to think about all the people who have crossed your path, it wouldn’t take long to make a list of fundamental lessons that will help you be successful. This group of people has probably shared more wisdom with you than a single mentor could ever provide.
And look to yourself for “self-mentoring” – take online courses to learn skills you need to acquire. Read books and articles to find more on specific topics. Social media encourages interaction with an almost limitless consortium of experts and business leaders you can reach out to. You can seek advice on career decisions in general and on specific goals or obstacles you’re facing.
Every step of your journey is filled with many micro-mentoring moments. For example, you may have heard your parents say, “It’s easier to do the right thing” or “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.” Or maybe a co-worker shared that the best way to communicate with your boss is in bullet points.
With this, perhaps identifying a mentor isn’t the most important step after all. Instead, focus on being open to learning from others and applying that knowledge in your personal and professional life. Don’t discount people you disagree with – they can often be your most important teachers. That boss who pushes your buttons can make you aware of behaviors that trigger unskillful reactions in you. That co-worker you find intolerable can provide valuable lessons in tact or team-building.
The concept of mentor relates to learning what we need in order to advance in our goals. No matter whether you opt for a traditional mentor or look to the other ideas presented here, the process is the same. We learn by dismantling – in part or in entirety – the templates of our current beliefs and opinions. We build new realities. We stretch and grow beyond our present limitations. We identify the appropriate journey toward our objectives.