Pete Subkoviak, Having and Being a Mentor
I met Pete Subkoviak, 41, almost a decade ago while I was supporting the career related work of the Point Foundation. We’ve been in touch regularly as he takes on ever more important work. He’s currently living in Chicago where he serves as the Director of Guaranteed Income and Economic Mobility for the Cook County Government. Pete has an Masters in Public Health from The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. Here is his story of being mentored and mentoring.
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I oversee guaranteed income and other programs that directly invest in low and moderate income families to promote economic stability and prosperity in our local communities.
When did you first experience having a mentor? How did you meet them? What role have they played in your life?
Aside from the significant role my family played in my youth, I’d say the key mentors early on were my soccer coaches. Soccer was a huge part of my life growing up and it really wasn’t until I was an adult that I appreciated how my coaches shaped me not just as a player but as a person. Soccer was how I learned how to build team camaraderie; it’s also how I learned the value of hard work, and gained a real understanding of what I’d have to put in in order to achieve big things.
One coach that sticks out to me is Rory. He’s an Irishman who coaches college soccer in Dublin but would come over to the states and be an assistant coach for my club team during the summers. These days I don’t really even remember what he taught me about soccer, because as I got into my late teens I started to look up to him as a person and he became a confidant and a friend, which he still is to this day.
As you’ve continued to grow professionally how did you meet your other primary mentors?
Most of my mentors are former bosses or were in senior positions at my former places of employment, but I also met people I consider to be mentors through friends, hobbies, or through educational and leadership development programs I participated in. For instance, in grad school I was a Point Foundation scholar and throughout the years I've looked to several of my fellow scholars for guidance and advice
over the years.
What would you recommend to others seeking a mentor? What should you look for?
I’d look at not only what a person has accomplished, but how they’ve accomplished it and if the way they’ve conducted their career aligns with your values. If your ambitions are forcing you to change who you are or how you show up in the world in ways you don’t like, then the cost is too high. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change your goal, but you might have to blaze a different path to get there.
On a more practical level, I think that for certain issues having a mentor who is five years further along in their career than you is in the best position to give you concrete advice about the next steps you should consider, versus someone who’s much more senior to you. Like, if a new college grad came to me for advice on landing their first job out of school, I’d have some general thoughts, but it’s been about 20 years since I graduated college - that era is a distant memory for me and so much has changed over the years. If you can connect with someone who’s gone through that experience relatively recently they will have many more actionable ideas to offer.
However, in other cases, age or experience differences won't matter quite so much. Someone more experienced might have broader networks or a deeper understanding of the landscape.
What did you do to be a good mentee?
- Respect the mentor’s time
- Set expectations - the mentor and mentee should understand the parameters and limits of the relationship. Generally mentees should understand that mentors can offer guidance and a perspective, but they don’t know everything, they may be wrong, and they can’t solve your problems
- Relationships should be two-way streets, so do what you can to contribute and let them know you value them, whether that’s teaching them something new or buying them a cup of coffee from time to time
- Let them know the impact they’ve had and thank them
- Pay it forward by mentoring others
What are the pros/cons of having a mentor?
Mentors have perspective, knowledge, and experience that you (and probably most or all of the people in your social network) don’t. They often have a good idea of what you need to do to get where you want to go. They can also raise important questions to help you consider how to make a decision, or more importantly if what you think you want is really what you want.
I don’t think there are many cons to having a mentor, so long as there is mutual respect and they have your best interests at heart.
How much did identity matter when you were seeking a mentor or to mentor someone else?
I think it’s good to have people in your life you can seek advice from that have shared identities - especially if you belong to a minority group - and certainly if you have friends in common or went to the same school they might be more likely to help you out, but I’ve never sought out a mentor based on a shared identity alone.
When/How did you decide to serve as a mentor to someone else? When did you think you were ready to do so?
I think almost anyone has the ability to mentor someone else, it’s really about recognizing what skills and life lessons you have and sharing that wisdom with someone who could use it. I’ve always had an open door and been happy to provide some level of guidance to the younger folks in my life because it was always incredibly valuable for me when I had someone willing to act as a mentor to me, especially when I was just starting off in my career.
But building a real, solid mentor-mentee relationship requires more than openness - it takes a commitment to make the time and to show up and be there for that person, so I haven’t entered into formal mentorship roles unless I know I have the time and believe I have a perspective that can be useful to the person seeking mentorship.
What do you think are the attributes to being a good mentor?
First off both the mentor and mentee need to agree upon and share the same expectations for the relationship, set boundaries, etc, but the mentor needs to lead on that.
A good mentor needs to be committed to the growth and best interests of the mentee and I think a few key things flow from that: they need to prioritize the relationship, and that means being accessible and spending real time with their mentee. A mentor should also understand that they are not there to tell the mentee what to do, but rather to act as a sounding board and as a form of support when needed. At the end of the day the mentee may go in a different direction than what the mentor might expect or hope, but that’s not the goal of the relationship - the goal is progress and growth in the mentee, full stop.
What would you say to someone who is doubting their readiness?
I’m not one for offering platitudes when someone is seeking real substance, so here’s my honest advice: If someone is doubting whether they’re ready for a particular opportunity I’d ask them if they really feel they’ve done the necessary work to prepare for the role they want to undertake. If the answer is yes, then they need to get out of their own way and trust that the hard work they’ve done has prepared them for this moment.
If the answer is no, I would still encourage them to pursue the opportunity, but I would tell them to prepare as much as they can while doing so because that will breed competence, which will breed confidence. But I’d also remind them that they can get to their end goal via many different paths and this opportunity is just one of many ways to get there. The most important thing to actualizing an ambition is putting in the work to prepare for what you want to become, and continuing to pursue different ways to move ahead. Much less important is whether you arrive at your goal via Path A or Path B.
What are the pros/cons of being a mentor?
- Gratifying to help others grow
- Many of my mentor/mentee relationships transition into long-term connections and friendships
- Mentees can teach you a lot too, it’s not a one-way street.
- For me there aren’t any cons to mentoring but some may dislike the time commitment and the dynamic of having someone looking to them for support
How have your relationship(s) with your primary mentors/mentees changes over time?
Like most relationships, things tend to change over time. I think you generally find mentors for specific times in your life and often as you move forward in your career they may no longer be the best person from whom to seek advice. I’m still close with some of the mentors I had in my teens and 20’s, but as my positions and goals have changed, they’re role in my life has transitioned. I consider many of my old mentors to be friends or colleagues, some I’ve stayed in less touch with as our careers or lives have diverged. There are just a few that I’d still consider long-term mentors.