A smiling elderly woman

Like many people, I enjoy taking the time to invest in my personal and professional development any chance I get. At a basic level, this usually looks like attendance at various networking events and industry talks (and throughout quarantine, the digital version of these events). One thing I’ve noticed when engaging at these events and listening to inspiring speakers is the amount of people who attribute their success to a mentor.

It got me thinking. Here were people I looked up to, respected and whose career journeys I aspired to myself. In my eyes, they were the epitome of success and yet, as they all confessed, achieving that success came down to something I hadn’t previously considered for myself: a mentor.

A Professional Helping Hand

There’s a reason so many people cite mentors as being the key to helping them achieve their goals and get to where they want to be in life. Various studies have connected high-quality mentoring to a range of career successes such as job promotions, higher salaries and successful career transitions.

Mentors exist outside the career realm too. You can find mentors who are willing to assist you with a range of life goals from health and nutrition to social and relationship success, from transitioning out of a 9-5 to freelance and pursuing creative endeavors. 

A good mentor will:

  • Be sincerely interested in you and your journey. They will offer insights around how you can more effectively pursue your goals
  • Offer industry or specialist knowledge, skills and advice you might not get access to elsewhere
  • Be a strong connector and help you reach out to people who can add value to your journey
  • Help you explore, understand and utilize your innate strengths and potentially identify areas for growth that might be currently holding you back

One thing I’ve learned from people I admire who have mentors is that we don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes, when we hit a new level in our personal or professional journeys, it feels like we’re just magically expected to know what we’re doing and what’s next. The encouragement for seeking out a good mentor communicates to me that no matter how far up the ladder you go, help and guidance is always important.

No matter how far up the ladder you go, help and guidance is always important.

Choosing the Right Mentor for You

I’ve previously been a little turned off by the concept of a mentor because of its increasing prevalence on my social media feeds. I receive at least two or three ads a day from some form of mentor promising to help elevate my freelance career, relationships or business success in some way.

I’m not saying that these individuals don’t have a place and offer impactful guidance. However, they don’t meet my idea of a mentor when I hear those I’m inspired by talking about their mentors. So, I decided to explore what to look for in a mentor and why it matters.

The American Psychological Association offers the following guidance for what a mentor should be able and willing to offer. They should:

  • Value the mentee as a person
  • Develop mutual trust and respect
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Listen both to what is being said and how it is being said
  • Help the mentee solve his or her own problem, rather than give direction
  • Focus on the mentee’s development, and resist the urge to produce a clone

Mentorship is a deeply personal experience, and the person you choose needs to be aligned with you and your values at a number of levels. It’s also really important to remember that a mentor cannot make decisions for you. You need to own the relationship and see it as a joint venture without relying on this person to be your golden ticket, giving you all the answers with little input from you. 

Mentorship is a deeply personal experience.

I haven’t found a suitable mentor yet. Yet, deciding to challenge myself through seeking a mentor has been a rewarding experience already, even without having actually found “the one.” It’s forced me to sit and clarify my goals and list the qualities and values I want to cultivate more of in myself. This has helped me scan my networks and reach out to a few people who are aligned with those values.

It’s helped motivate me and inspired me to create a plan for how I want areas in my life to progress throughout the next year. If you’ve been feeling a little bit stuck, then starting the process of finding a mentor could be the answer you need to kick start things once more.

Do you have a mentor? How has this person impacted your life?

Image via Chaunté VaughnDarling Issue No. 17

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