Minding Your Mentors
Struggling to find just the right mentor? Maybe you’re not looking in the right place.
Mentoring is an easy word to throw around these days. You’ll hear it tossed into conversation amongst friends or casually mentioned between business colleagues over coffee. But mentoring is much easier to talk about than it is to practice.
Why is it so difficult to find a mentor? To begin with, you’re dealing with people: Flawed human beings who each have their own expectations and agendas. We all have our own issues, and one of the reasons it can be so hard to find a good mentor these days is that so few people have been mentored. We have believed the myth of the self-made man and have given in to the illusion of self-reliance. What we need is something to pull us out of our own independence and ignorance. Which means the mentor that comes might not be the one we were expecting.
Chances are, your apprenticeship will not look like you imagined. Your mentor may not be the teacher you dreamed of, and that’s the point. This is your education of what is, not what you think should be. A teacher who challenges you, who doesn’t meet your expectations, who forces you to think and act differently, is exactly what you need. That is, after all, the job of an educator.
“The teacher appears when the student is ready” is a nice-sounding cliché, but the truth is the student is never ready. Throughout our lives, we will encounter a number of people ho will appear at times, ready to instruct, and it will be our job to recognize them.
In my life, I’ve had many mentors: from my college chaplain, to my first boss, to the guy who lives down the street from us and sometimes helps me fix things. Most of the time, I’ve failed to recognize the importance of these relationships until well after they were over. Sometimes, their influence was subtle and undetected. Other times, it was clear they were trying to invest in me; I was just too stubborn to appreciate it. In every example, though, I would have benefited more from the mentor had I been intentional about the process.
Throughout this process of finding your life’s work, you must be willing to look for mentors in unexpected places. Your friends, long-lost relatives, even old relationships that have dwindled down may become the sources of inspiration you need. Each person serves a purpose: some will arrive at just the right time to cheer you on, while others are there to identify with the struggles you’re living. And even others will show up when you need them the most. All of these people in their own way are mentors, contributing to your apprenticeship.
How do you find these people? Where do they come from? It’s hard to tell. Likely they’ll surprise you, appearing seemingly out of nowhere at just the right time. The whole thing will look like an accident or a mystery but, of course, it is far from it. As Paulo Coelho writes, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” There’s some truth to that. Fortune favors the motivated. When a person is determined to not just succeed but to do work that matters, the world makes room for such ambition. You won’t be able to predict how this apprenticeship unfolds, but you can be prepared for it when it comes.
Design Your Own Apprenticeship
Don’t go in search of a mentor; instead, identify the mentors that are already around you. Who could you ask to meet for coffee or lunch? Make a list of these people and reach out to them. Prepare ahead of time, ask questions, and take notes. Afterward, follow up with a thank you note, sharing specifically what you learned and how you’d like to do it again. Start meeting regularly with those who reciprocate and let the relationship progress organically. More on finding a mentor.
Meet the Author
Jeff will be the lead keynote at “The Art of Success,” the ICPAS Young Professionals Leadership Conference at Chicago’s Venue One on June 3. Join Jeff after the event for an exclusive Art of Work book signing! Get event registration information. Order The Art of Work today.