I recently took a class called Understanding Careers, which explored the various trajectories that individuals–young and old, famous and less distinguished, executive and entry level–pursued to define their career journey.
As a freshman with little sense of direction of what I wanted to pursue for my future, I expected to walk away from the course with a fresh lens and passion for a specific path I could replicate from the guest speakers or older students’ experiences.
While I’m still navigating the multitude of options and industries to enter, I did walk away from the class with an appreciation for the single constant that acted as a factor of success in each individuals’ story: mentorship.
From the CEO of Linkedin to the director of The Zuckerberg Chan initiative, mentors played a prominent role in the giant leap forward that launched each individual into their current success.
Of course, the idea of mentorship isn’t novel, especially to those of us in the business world, where the term “network” is used quite often. But, as I sat in the class, thinking about the friends, family, supporters, and teachers in my life, I wondered, how do and can we establish mentors in our life without explicitly–and even awkwardly–asking someone, “so, will you mentor me?”
There’s no “I” in Entrepreneur…
The first step is to recognize that no famous entrepreneur and leader in history was ever that talented to do it all on their own.
Take the classic example of Steve Jobs.
When Steve was coming to fame and starting his company, he had to deal with the stressors that came with running his own business, facing the media, and organizing his personal life outside of the spotlight. As any person would, this was not an easy ride for Steve.
That’s where Bill Campbell, otherwise known as the Silicon Valley “go to guru” came in. Bill offered Steve what no amount of personal intelligence could offer. For one, Bill offered Steve love. He didn’t shy away from personal hugs and acts of kindness, and he saw Steve as a person rather than a label or a job title. Even when Steve got sick, Bill visited him everyday in the hospital; there was a layer of emotional support that separated him from a coach or a sponsor.
Bill was also a supporter. He would use his own time to help his mentees obtain the right resources or make a progression in their career development.
Most importantly, Bill saw value in his mentees. He had a special admiration for founders like Steve Jobs. And once he found this potential in individuals, he invested in them--through money, time, energy, and love. He showered them with his best life advice and challenged them to uphold their integrity and grit.
What is a Mentor?
Simply put, a mentor is anyone in your life who guides, teaches, provides advice, and invests in someone less experienced in a certain area.
Values the mentee
Understands and can empathize with the mentee
Invests in the Mentee
Guides the mentee psychologically
Guides the mentee intellectually (can be related to careers)
Challenges the mentee
Supports the mentee
To name a few.
Furthermore, they have a lot more experience, which is where much of their value comes from.
They may have taken up a similar venture to you in the past
Therefore, they can provide you with insight about the challenges and unexpected risks they had to face, and how you can best approach them
They teach you what you don’t know!
They know people in your industry and can connect you with others
They have experienced challenges and setbacks that you might face in your future and can teach you how to mitigate those risks
Two takeaways I think are very important, however, are…
Mentors come in different shapes and sizes: there is no one person fits all. Many times, a mentor will see themselves in the mentee or encounter the mentee through an unexpected experience. It’s important to find someone that you can resonate with, and feel comfortable being vulnerable with.
Mentors in life will come and go: there is no one person who will act as the guardian angel or source of everything in your life. You’ll find different people for different aspects of your life–professional, personal, athletic, health, etc. You’ll also find different people for different stages of your life. All of this is to say that it’s important that you don’t go looking around for the “perfect” mentor. Different parts of you will seek help and advice from different people!
As you build your network, you’ll naturally find individuals who you connect with on a deeper level. This is a great place to start when it comes to seeking advice and guidance that they will want to provide. When it comes to recruiting for a job, applying to college, or asking for personal advice, get a meal, hop on a call, or simply shoot a text asking for help.
One interesting lesson I learned from the class is that your loose connections (the ones that aren’t that deep), are more relevant to your career progression. While this may come as a surprise, Jeff, the founder of Linkedin, explains that these are the individuals who will connect you with others and find you that next opportunity. These are the connections where you should utilize email and linkedin for!
Another lesson I’ve taken away is that sometimes, mentorship relationships can be established by simply making the individual on the other end feel valued. If you thank the individual and label them as your mentor (without going through the awkward asking stages), thanking them for guidance, they will begin to see themselves as that role in your life.
Some basic takeaways are…
Conduct research on your industry; perhaps, look into alumni or individuals who have some sort of extra commonality with you (an interest or hobby, for example!)
Use your existing network
Have a clear vision and goals in mind
Know exactly what you are looking for
Sometimes, the person might be in your circle already, and sometimes, you’ll have to simply email a bunch of people and hop on a call, and sometimes, they will come to you!
Once you believe you have found a potential fit, it’s necessary to ask yourself a series of questions
Is your mentor the right fit for YOU?
Does this person fit your mentorship needs?
Does your mentor understand his or her role?
Do you have a well-established communication?
Does your mentor value you?
Does your mentor trust you?
Do you feel comfortable around this person?
Are you ready to receive feedback and criticism?
Giving Back (GIVE AND TAKE)
Mentorship is not all about the take; it’s also about giving. It’s about learning, then teaching. It’s about becoming inspired, then inspiring others.
Once you take away more expertise, you can share that with others who you will find were once in your place!