How many times have you been told that you need to have a mentor? Everyone says it so nonchalantly like finding a mentor is just as easy as grabbing a coffee at Starbucks. Almost like - you just have to make the effort and you'll get what you ordered. Easy, right?
Just when everyone was screaming, "Find a mentor!" and "You're not taking full advantage of your career if you don't have a mentor," I was without one. And I was ASHAMED.
Was it my strong-willed personality that repelled other women?
Was I so focused on getting ahead that I wasn't opening myself up to learn from another?
And how could I really find someone other than my supervisor that would care enough to help me along my way?
Out with the traditional mentorship model
When you think about what a mentor looks like, I bet you imagine someone a few decades older than you, accomplished in their job, and whose career successes you would love to emulate.
There have been a handful of women that I've crossed paths with - especially during grad school - that I've been really impressed by. The respect I had for these women's professional accomplishments allowed me to surpass the competitive, "I wish I could be her" thoughts and get to the "I want to learn so much from her" thoughts.
The problem: I wasn't alone in this admiration. Everyone who knew these professors was dying to learn from them.
Later, at work when I reached out to women in leadership roles for guidance on how to approach sticky situations, I was simply told, "This is the way it's always been done. You just need to be patient and ride it out." Annnnnd shut down.
There are huge differences between generations at work right now. And with formal mentorship programs few and far in between, we're having trouble relating to and learning from each other.
It's time to look elsewhere
So where do you look when you want to have a solid career conversation? One where you can learn from someone else but also share your own truths?
I recently spoke with a wildly successful professional organizer and event planner. She told me that her greatest mentors have been women in her own network. I didn't think of it as much at the time, but over the last few months this concept has really clicked with me.
I've been amazed at the female entrepreneurial community I've been able to link up with by putting myself out there and telling people whose work I admire that they've influenced me in a positive way.
Many people think you have to straight up ask someone to serve as your mentor. Absolutely not! You can start by just sending an email to someone whose work you admire. Introduce yourself, how you found them, and what impresses you about their work. Draw any parallels between their work and yours and close by asking if they'd be willing to hop on the phone (or even better: meet in person) to chat. This is how relationships are built.
The key to a successful mentor-mentee relationship - well really any relationship for that matter - is give and take. Don't just focus on what you can get out of the conversation. Be generous with your skills, resources, and time.
Pay it forward
It's important that you see yourself as a mentor where you are in your career right now. I would love to see more women in their 20's connecting with college women. There's so much that goes down in the first decade of your career, and whether you know it or not YOU already have valuable life lessons to share with your younger colleagues.
Think about all the things you would have told your 20-year-old self. Here are a few of mine, which I try to share whenever possible:
- Stop worrying about what's going to happen five years down the road. You'll only stress out about it and honestly things won't be nearly the same as you hope will be. And that's what makes it so amazing!
- Don't let the fear of what others think hold you back from doing anything. They probably don't matter and if they do matter, they'll support you the whole way.
- There is no perfect time for anything: getting married, quitting your job, having a baby, etc. Please don't judge your success by someone else's measuring stick.
- Trust your gut. Your intuition has rarely been off and even though you like to think through everything, trust how something makes you feel - good or bad - and use that feeling to inform those big decisions.
Do you have a mentor? How was this relationship born and what advice would you give others about finding a mentor themselves?