One of the questions I hear most is “how do I find a mentor?”
Mentorship has always been a strange concept to me. For a long time I thought it was common for people to have “official” mentors, but eventually I realized I had never met anyone with an explicit mentor relationship.
Maybe your experience is different, maybe you know of a world where up-and-comers have designated relationships with experienced people who look out for them, but for most people it just doesn’t work that way.
So, instead of helping you find a mentor, I’m going to tell you why you should stop looking for one. Or, at least that you should stop looking for what you think a mentor is.
Why Do You Want a Mentor Anyway?
Just about everyone thinks about having a mentor at some point. Having someone experienced and well-connected to coach and guide you is easy to want.
What benefits would you get from having a mentor? Here are some common ones:
- Experience to guide you
- Coaching to help you find shortcuts to success
- Access to connections and important people
- Fun and friendship with someone interesting
- Recognition, encouragement, and support
Having a mentor is ultimately about improving your chances of success (in whatever field or creative venture you’re pursuing) while feeling more confident about what you’re doing.
Having a mentor sounds great, but…
Why Mentors Don’t Exist Like You Think
Who wouldn’t want a no-cost relationship with an important person who could guide you along your career or creative path?
If mentors are so great, why doesn’t everyone have one?
Like I said before, I’ve never known anyone who had an “official” mentor. Yes, I know people who say they have mentors, but when you dig into the story and relationship, you find something a little different.
You don’t find a mentor by making a list of important people and asking “will you mentor me?” There are better ways to accomplish your goals.
Imagine if a stranger approached you and asked you to mentor him. What would you think? Without knowing the person, their work ethic, goals, capabilities, history, etc., wouldn’t it be an awkward thing to respond to?
And what does mentoring really require anyway? How much time? What are your responsibilities as the mentor? How long does the relationship go on? What do you get in return?
The question “will you be my mentor” is just too vague and there are too many unknowns, especially if you don’t know each other.
Finding a mentor isn’t such a structured or explicit process. In the real world, mentors are usually organic relationships without specific titles, goals or responsibilities.
Mentors are most often simply experienced people you get to know and look to for advice, informally and organically. They’re people you go to coffee with, people you ask for guidance, and people you call when there’s a big decision to make.
How to Really Find a Mentor (or At Least Get the Benefits of Having One)
Relationships with “mentors” rarely involve a question of “will you be my mentor.” They’re more likely to happen as any relationship might: through a process of getting to know each other, and through a little give-and-take.
Since your ideal mentors are probably busy people, your best approach is to start by offering some sort of unique value and to “give before you get.”
Be smart and figure out something unique these people might need. If someone you want to meet is traveling to your city, write and offer a ride from the airport. If you see your potential mentor asking a question on social media, respond with a thorough write up just for her.
Start small, and let the relationship grow from there. After you’ve gotten to know someone by being helpful, you might start by asking if you could ask a couple of questions or if you could take the person out to coffee. If this mentor candidate likes you, they’ll be open to meeting or answering questions.
As you might imagine, not all of these relationships will work out. Some people will be difficult to break the ice with, and some you just won’t “click” with.
That’s why it’s best to try and make connections with lots of potential mentors.
That’s also why you should think about mentor alternatives.
In our list of mentor benefits above, you might have noticed something. Several of the benefits of having a mentor could instead be achieved with a diverse peer group.
Peers can provide recognition, encouragement, and support. They can certainly provide fun and friendship. They can probably even help you with access to connections and important people.
And if your peer group is diverse and ambitious enough, some of them will even be able to coach you or share experience you might not have.
This is why I’m such a big fan of mastermind groups. Masterminds are small formal groups of people who meet weekly to hold each other accountable and offer to help in areas where the others need it.
Unlike mentors, peers are easy to approach and connect with. You should start relationships with as many interesting and ambitious peers as you can.
If you haven’t tried a mastermind group before, just ask 2-3 peers to meet once a week to talk about what you’re working on and to set goals.
And while you’re meeting peers and making new connections, keep more experienced people on your list. Keep trying to meet the people you’d like to know most.
Eventually you might find a mentor or two. If you don’t, your peer groups will be there to provide most of the benefits anyway.
Do you have a mentor? What are your tips for finding one?
Please share in the comments below.