Updated: Apr 11, 2019
Mentorship helps us excel personally and professionally. Finding a mentor is a piece of advice touted everywhere (or at least it seems that way). Positive mentoring can make a real difference your life or the life of someone you know. But it's not always obvious how to begin or end a relationship.
How to BE a Mentor
I've been fortunate to have women who've guided me through all aspects of my career. Those relationships formed organically and helped me grow in ways I never imagined possible.
In fact, if it weren't for a brief conversation after class one night in grad school, I would not be a college professor today, I'm sure of it. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. As we walked out of class, my professor (thanks, Dr. Christine Tulley) casually asked me what my next steps were, I told her I planned to get my teaching license and hopefully secure a job teaching English in a local school. I enjoyed teaching writing and literature and wanted to write a book with all that free time (ha, bless my sweet, naive heart). The book is still coming, but her reply sent my life on an entire different path, "Why don't just go on for the Ph.D.? Teaching upper-level high school kids is pretty similar to college-level teaching." My initial response was typical and maybe you can relate - A Ph.D.? Me? Yeah, right!
But then I started dreaming about it, imagining myself teaching in a college classroom and being a part of the conversations and research that drive curriculum. Doubt started creeping in, too - no, I'm not smart enough, I can't hang with intellectual types, how will I pay for it?
Another longer conversation with this same woman helped me overcome the doubts. And guess what? She set me up with another wonderful woman and mentor in my Ph.d. program, without whom I would've never made it through (academia is a tough space). The point is - I would NOT be where I am today without assistance from women who took the time and care to mentor me. So I pay it forward.
I've got lots of stuff to do every day. I teach classes, I shuffle my kids around, feed them, do laundry, try to squeeze in date nights, run a company with my husband, volunteer...you get the picture.
AND when I see a woman with potential, I invite her to coffee. I ask her what she wants to do with her life and I BUILD HER UP. The world teaches us to doubt ourselves - to speak lies like we aren't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, you name it. However, when someone in a place of authority believes in you, when someone whose been there takes a moment to speak truth about all the potential tucked away inside of you, something blooms.
I've seen it happen over and over again in the lives of the woman I mentor. It is the aspect of my job that keeps me going. There's nothing better than watching someone else push through the hard stuff and grow into who they were meant to be. Being a witness to that growth is a privilege. Being able to help it along is a gift.
How to FIND a mentor.
Now that we've covered the reasons why you should take the time to mentor someone else (it's one of the most fulfilling things you can do to serve others) and how to do it (strike up a conversation with someone who has potential), we can move on to the other end of the spectrum - how to find a mentor. Life is not always going to deliver a mentor to you a la a well-timed conversation, sometimes you need to find a mentor and there's a lot of good and bad advice out there about how to do it.
DO seek someone out (or a few people) who are a few steps ahead of you that you admire. I enjoy taking time to speak with students about their dreams and goals and connect them with others or guide them about how to get "there" - if you look up to someone, it's likely for a good reason and hopefully that reason is because they are a nice person, the type who will take the time to mentor you.
DON'T assume they have all the answers or all the time in the world to mentor you. If you do get a meeting with this person you look up to, don't waste their time. Make sure you prepare for meetings and show them you are interested in their work as well as your own. Don't seek people out just to seek them out. Make sure the relationship is reciprocal and always thank them for their time/guidance.
DO the work. Potential mentors are looking for people to work with. I LOVE working with energized and enthusiastic young people, it invigorates me in my own work. I don't enjoy speaking with people who complain or give excuses. Don't waste valuable time with a mentor, because you aren't showing up or preparing the way you should. Doing the work also opens up new opportunities to work with your mentor in ways you might not have imagined.
DON'T be limited by geography. There are so many amazing women (and men) out there vlogging, creating blogs and podcasts that are designed to give you the tools you need to succeed. I know it's more of a one-way mentoring model, but don't let your lack of contacts or place of living hold you back. Seek people out - tweet at them, buy their books, listen to the podcasts. There's lots of amazing advice out there!