OK, so you’ve decided: you want a mentor. Why wouldn’t you? Mentors are great. A good mentor is like an awesome park ranger to your life. They point out truth, they explain different paths, they tell you what poisonous creatures to watch out for. They gently offer suggestions that make your journey better. Especially in our twenties and thirties, a good mentor can bring clarity and encouragement just when we need it.
But finding a mentor is where a lot of stall. Where exactly are these mentors at? How do you find one? Here are some tips that might help:
You Aren’t in College anymore (unless you are…)
College is an awesome time to have a mentor. Many of my favorite young leaders were mentored well in college. They had an older guy or girl who gave them intentional time every single week. They had one-on-one time. They had small group time. They had large group time. They had social justice time. They had bowling at midnight time. They had Waffle House time. They had camping time.
The point? They had time. And unfortunately, well, life doesn’t work like college, so you need to ask yourself what exactly you are looking for right now when you want someone to “pour into” or “disciple” or “mentor” you.
Do you need a friend? Do you need advice? Do you need a counselor?
Once you figure out what you really want when you say “I want a mentor” you can then ask yourself, is that reasonable to ask of someone? Another way to evaluate if it’s reasonable is to imagine someone asking you to be their mentor. What would you want them to say/do/ask?
Once you know what you really need, you can take some next steps. Let’s suppose you would love someone older to help you understand some next steps for your career. Take a look at the community around you and find some people you admire (maybe three or four people) who might meet those needs.
Next, DO NOT go out and immediately ask those people to be your mentor, especially if you don’t know them, and especially if you don’t know them at all.
Commitment is scary for everyone. You wouldn’t want some guy or girl walking up to you and asking you to be their boy/girlfriend without even one date, so you can understand that having a “title” thrown at you with no relationship at all is daunting.
And it’s not just about the mentor, either, this is about you finding the best fit. Here’s the deal: even that person you think would be perfect for you might kind of stink at being a mentor. They might be too busy for you. They might be pompous. They might be utterly boring. They might give crappy advice.
So before you throw that big mentor word around, start small. A better place to begin is with one conversation. It might be something like this, “Hey, Suzy, I really admire the work you do and I’m very interested in the marketing field. Would it be possible to meet sometime so I could hear a little more about your story?”
Make It Easy
A great mentor is probably a person who’s doing pretty well at life, so they are busy.
Don’t make it hard for them to be with you. Offer to bring lunch to their office. Offer to meet them at the coffee shop that’s convenient for them even when it’s inconvenient for you.
Be flexible. Don’t cancel. Be early. Find the table so they don’t have to. Text them that morning to make sure it’s still a good day for them. Treat them with the honor that represents the respect you have for them (after all, you wanted them to be your mentor, right?)
Your job is to be prepared. This goes back to the “what is it that you really want?” If you want to meet with someone because you want to exploit their connections or use their influence or date their daughter, they are going to be able to tell. People have awesome BS meters, and nobody likes to be used, especially great leaders.
If those connections are going to be made, it will be because the mentor wants to make them (and a good mentor will want to make them, if it’s the right thing for you).
So be patient. Don’t work that angle in a first meeting. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to learn. Ask the person their story. Ask specific questions, and follow-up questions. Have them written down.
Don’t ask them for things that they can’t immediately give you—in other words, don’t make work for them. If they want to make a connection or email you a resource or bring you a book, they will offer to do that. In an initial meeting, you want this person to leave feeling like you were engaged with who they were, not what you wanted out of them.
Option A: Let’s say it was awesome. Let’s say the chemistry was there, and they laughed (a good sign!) Let’s say that when you asked your specific questions, they also asked you questions (another good sign!)
Now send them a thank you email or note. Give specific gleanings on what you learned from their story. And end it with “I know your schedule is full, and I am really thankful for your time!” See if they email you back. If yes, then a relationship has formed, and you have the green light to perhaps ask them to lunch (and repeat the other steps) again. If they don’t, then give it some time, or move on to the next person you can meet with.
Option B: Let’s say it sucked. The person talked nonstop about him or herself and never asked you a question. When you did tell her a little bit about yourself, she didn’t seek to understand, but just gave you pat advice. Or perhaps he assumed some things about you that weren’t true. Or he was on the phone the whole time answering messages and just didn’t have the bandwidth to engage.
So what do you do? You send him a thank you note. (And then you send me a thank you note for warning you to not get into a mentoring relationship too quickly!)
Like any relationship, the best mentorships develop organically. They are formed because of a genuine affection and mutual admiration for one another. Often, mentors get as much (or more!) out of the mentoring relationship. Some of my best friendships started as mentorships, both to me and from me.
You may find that through life, different people are able to provide for different needs—that’s the great thing about relationships. So leave your heart and mind open to the possibilities, ask yourself the hard questions about what you really want and be intentional with your next steps. It’s absolutely worth the work!