I would argue that having a strong, level-headed mentor as you start out in your professional career can be as valuable as your education or training. What’s more, over time, building a team of mentors that you are able to turn to for advice or coaching can be solid gold.
Mentors can inspire, educate, alleviate and empathize – all while letting you know that everything really will turn out ok. If it isn’t actually going to be ok, they can probably tell you that as well. They can also provide honesty and perspective (for better or worse) when it comes to decision making. There is a give and a take, and the mentor certainly has to do more giving – but hopefully everything comes full circle right?
My experience my mentors helped me shape the person that I am, both at work and in my home life. Some were managers I had at work, some were family members, and it turns out that some have even been people who worked for me. The idea is to get that unique, outside perspective from fresh ears. Your mentor doesn’t have to be in your industry necessarily – even observing someone who has achieved a position you admire can teach you about getting ahead, choosing your moves, all while doing so with kindness and grace.
Today, I am in a position where the tables have started to turn, and I have relationships with incredible people who come to me with frustrations or confusions about their paths. It feels terrific to know the importance of taking the time to grab a coffee or a 15 minute walk with someone who genuinely believes in your ability to help them. To guide them. To mentor them. I will take time out of my schedule for anyone who asks because I know the impact it had on me. And I know how I would have felt if someone I respected told me that their schedule was a little jammed and couldn’t find time to fit me in.
I often hear colleagues complain about giving “free advice” to people who come to them looking for guidance. If someone is eager to learn and wants to work hard, believe me, your “free advice” to this person has a very good chance of paying dividends down the road. There are of course those folks who are looking for something more – like help on their business plan or tutorials about something you may be an expert in. Those people may be looking for something for free, and it likely isn’t a “mentor.” You have to be a bit more careful there, but try not to be too cynical.
I am still looking for mentorship opportunities with every connection I make. I will never want to stop learning from people who have achieved success and seem to be happy (what a combo!) Keep connecting, keep learning and then share your successes and failures with those who can benefit from them.