Photo by Beibei Lu
Throughout my education, I often heard the word “mentor” being tossed around. Having a mentor was the thing to do. I understood the term: to my knowledge, a mentor was a super cool human being who you could look up to and draw inspiration from. They were someone that has “been there, done that” – and did a darn good job of doing “that” too, whatever “that” may be to you.
They were someone whose brain you could pick, to whom you could run your top-secret ideas by and divulge your greatest passions – as well as your deepest darkest secrets, successes, and failures. Essentially, a mentor sounded like a fun, successful new bestie (perhaps sans manicures and wine). All that was left for me was to go out and find this amazing superhuman who wanted to embark on this mentor/mentee relationship with me. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Could I not just start handing out the applications? There should be tons of people eager to start help shaping this young mind. This, folks, is where reality kicked in. Although the concept of having a mentor seemed simple, fun – perhaps even trendy – it’s not quite so easily achievable. Here are a few things I learned upon entering the mentor matchmaking scene.
1. You must have a mutual interest and passion. Finding a mentor isn’t quite as easy as business school made it sound. It requires a great deal more work that typing out an email with the subject line, “Mentor Me?”
In order to have someone want to invest time and passion in you, you have to first show your own passion. Keep in mind that this person will be investing a lot of their resources in you, out of simply the goodness of their heart and their desire to see you succeed. Maybe they see themselves in you, or maybe they share the same values and ambitions.
Whatever it is, they have decided that you are worth their own very precious time, so don’t let them down. When you schedule time with them, don’t be late, and never waste their time. Come full of questions, but also let them talk and tell their story. It is amazing how much you can learn from not only somebody’s professional experience, but even more so from their life experience.
2. It will happen naturally. Finding a mentor should be organic. Don’t ask someone to be your mentor for the sake of having a mentor. It is said that often your mentor will find you, which makes perfect sense. Your mentor could be someone from your same company or in the same industry. You will run into them at events that will emphasize your shared interests.
If you are passionate about a particular cause, maybe you will find them heading a board that you have just started to volunteer on. If you find yourself instantly impressed by somebody, do your due diligence and learn more about their story. Didn’t instantly hit it off and book a lunch date? Don’t be afraid to contact them – but be professional and know your stuff, explaining that you are new to your industry, career, or whatever it may be, and that you would love to have the opportunity to take them for coffee or lunch to pick their brain.
After your “first date,” it will usually be clear to both parties if it is a relationship that is worth pursuing, so make sure to put your best foot forward.
3. It comes full circle. What? Me? A mentor? When I was approached by a younger student with some questions about my path, I was shocked. What could someone possibly learn from me?! Then I realized that she was me… six or seven years ago. While I was silently smiling and nodding at the then buzzword “mentor” in first-year university, this young student was way ahead of where I was then.
She was reaching out to people and asking them how they got to where they are today; strategically trying to figure out her next life steps. Although you may not have all the experience in the world, you have been there and done that when it comes to certain things. Sharing your story on how you made it through school (one venti latte at a time), graduated with honours, and now have started this incredible career might be somebody’s own dream. Don’t sell yourself short, and if you see someone who you think shows a lot of promise, invest in her future as well. You never know what you may have to offer one another.
4. Luck goes both ways. While the concept of finding a mentor may seem intimidating, there is no better way to learn than from somebody’s own personal real-life successes and failures. They are giving you an incredible gift by allowing you to learn from their wealth of experience and knowledge, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity. Connecting with a mentor can also open up a large portion of their own network to you… and you know what they say: two networks are better than one!
Athena Leadership is a Manitoba-based, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing young women in leadership. Laura Wittig currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Director of Communications. She is a proponent of helping other women advance in their careers, and seeks to share her perspective on how we can always keep learning personally and professionally.