The talk first started in college.
At 20, it wasn’t enough that I worked part-time, pulled all-nighters for A’s, joined the school newspaper and acted as editor for the on-campus fashion magazine. My internships – spanning from Cali to Minneapolis – just cut wouldn’t cut it when it came to landing my dream job.
“You need a mentor,” insisted college professors, internet life coaches and professionals who had just won the job offer I fervently sought. The problem was, I didn’t know how to get one… or what a mentor even looked like.
Even after receiving a steady paycheck in my bank account, the same advice rolled off the tongues of those I respected. In almost every scenario, the answer remained the same.
- Overcoming co-worker scuffles: “Ask your mentor.”
- Navigating relationship woes: “Maybe your mentor would know.”
- Climbing the ladder: “That’s a topic for your mentor.”
- Learning how to network: “See: mentor /ˈmenˌtôr/ (n.)”
- Having crucial, uncomfortable conversations: “Have you thought about a mentor?”
And in 2018, mentor is still a buzzword, yet bereft of tangible types or strategies of success.
What many of us really need to know is how to find one… and where? Are they a level-headed peer who understands our struggle or a much wiser being with wrinkle-inducing experience? Should they dominate our industry or simply be someone we trust? Should they speak to all our questions or just take a deep dive into one arena of our lives?
Unfortunately, in our 20s we all cycle through these questions at top speed. Trapped by the paradox of choice, we have access to seemingly limitless mentors if we just had the courage to ask. Many of us find it nearly impossible to choose a mentor to approach or the perfect words to express our needs.
The truth is, there isn't a singular definition for the perfect mentor. They don't all look or act a certain way. And they often don't share the same advice, experience or values. But all mentors carry something we simply cannot as 20-somethings... wisdom.
They’re someone who can tell us how to negotiate pay, and when to slow down. They’re an extra pair of eyes for opportunity and a vocal cheerleader when we aim to seize it. They’re someone who advises us to stand our ground and when to shut up and listen.
But how do we find the magical human who knows how to support us on our journey?
Before desperately grasping for a mentor, we must first know ourselves and what our growing edges are. Prior to pleading for guidance, we must know the value we bring to the table.
✔️What connections do we have?
✔️Are there gaps we can fill?
✔️What perspective can we offer?
Finding a mentor can be as simple as reaching out to someone who inspires us. Be it for personal growth, networking, leadership or love, mentors exist for all areas of our lives. (No matter how much I’m unsure of, I’m certain one mentor is never enough.)
So before we convince ourselves to give up, we must connect with courage. Humbling ourselves and mustering up the guts to hit “send” on an email, reach out via LinkedIn or simply invite the person to coffee. The real trick lies in being completely authentic when we do it.
And after? We must be conscious of how we present ourselves, the advice we give and the lifestyle we lead. If we learn something from everyone we meet, we must admit we, too, might be a mentor, even if we don’t know it.
And once we’ve been offered a hand to boost us, advice for growth and a pathway to opportunity, we must look back to see who else we can guide to the top. Even as we continue to grow at 30-something, 40-something and even 60-something, might we provide light to those who follow behind us.