Am I Mentor (Un)Worthy?
I have a secret. It isn’t one that I’m hiding away from others due to shame, but it comes out time and again in everyday conversations
I have never had a mentor. Not exactly earth shattering, but still not the norm with the people I know.
On occasion, I will be on a zoom or at a meal swapping stories with other colleagues who will readily offer up a list of people from their educational and professional pasts who have chosen to invest time in their growth.
And I’ve got nothing in kind to share.
I wish I could convince myself that my future success was so evident to those around me that rather than invest in me, others decide to spend their time and energy with those who clearly needed external support and validation more than me. However, I’ve noticed throughout my life that people love to mentor sure(r) things. They like the credit and glow that comes from their association with those seemingly pre-destined to be amazing.
I was never a sure(r). I never looked or acted like the norms of people thought of as successes. I was never one who had the ability to follow the fake it until you make it protocols. (To this day my inability to be anything but who I authentically am is perhaps my greatest strength and weakness.) My family didn’t necessarily provide me access to networks or understanding social norms outside my class.
Why am I bringing you down this particular memory lane?
There are plenty of people like me out there who feel unseen and unchosen. And this isn’t just about representation, although having more people who share more of your identities makes a huge difference.
I hate the conventional use of the word mentor because I think too many people consider it a one size fits all guru to all of our professional challenges. In brief, I think that the people you seek for guidance should represent a real range of skills, professional & life experiences. We are better served by diversity, trust, and not relying on one person to take us all the way in our professional journeys.
Lacking a mentor(s) doesn’t make life impossible, but it does make it harder.
- There is much to be said about the confidence that comes from feeling valued and chosen
- They can grant you access to other accomplished professionals
- You have someone else thinking about opportunities for you when you are in need
- You have a sounding board for the challenges life throws at you
Now, I spend a considerable amount of my time mentoring. I actively pursue people I meet at events or through others who don’t have people in that role. Don’t take my example to heart, while I was not the greatest bait for luring a mentor in my earlier years, let me assure you that you are mentor worthy.
Sometimes the moth doesn’t come to our flame. Here are a few tips that can help.
- Never use the mentor word. In particular, don’t write a note saying that I am seeking a mentor and I think you might be the right fit. That’s a little like you’re writing a stranger for a first date and saying that I think we are going to get married. Instead, think of this as a conversation. If all goes well for both of you, ask about having a next one. Let the relationship develop over time naturally.
- Locate candidates that move you for a particular reason. Beyond their title what do you share that intrigues you about this person (i.e., I grew up in the same city, went to the same high school/college, share an identity, hobby, or worldview) The more you share at the intersections the better. Tell them how this motivates you to learn from them. Remember that the more famous the person the more people that may be making similar requests and the less time they have available. Don’t focus on famous, but rather on someone who can offer you an opinion or expertise that you can learn from.
- If you can get a warm introduction through someone you know that’s always better. One of the great reasons for making a full effort to have a strong LinkedIn profile and making connections is because it enables you to reach more of the people you want to meet.
- Treat them like a human being. Always share your appreciation of the time someone has invested in you. Make sure that you write them a thank you beyond what you say on the call or in person. Ask them how they are doing and if you can be of service to them too.
- Follow-through. Whatever you have agreed upon with a deliverable and time frame do all you can to realize it. If you can’t, let them know as soon as possible. Communication and trust are key.
There it is, Mr. & Ms. Mentor Worthy. We may need to go out into the world and make our own fortunes instead of having them lavished upon us at the start. Doing so is completely possible for you. Let me know how it goes.
—Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.