You don’t suddenly have a mentor by asking someone to be your mentor. You don’t have a mentor by setting up monthly phone-calls or writing timelines and goals. It’s also not enough to just latch onto one mentor to cry to about all your woes and dreams. Artificial, formal mentoring relationships are like trying to squeeze the last drops of honey from a bottle, watching it drip down till it forms a small puddle near the mouth, but never actually making its way out to be useful.
A truly valuable mentoring relationship between the student and the mentor should be natural, like free-flowing honey from a bottle. Some of the best career advice I ever got was never from a formal mentor that I caught up with regularly — rather it was from one-off interactions in the office kitchen, on the way down the elevator, on the train or at office drinks. They’re one of those rare interactions where neither the student or mentor agree on any commitment, but share a degree of vulnerability and honesty which is mutually beneficial.
And every mentor will be different — different to each other and definitely different to you. One senior executive at my organisation told me to “specialise” in a field, one told me to “just have fun”, another told me to “try different areas of the business”, and another suggested I “blog at least once a week”. The thing is, every professional will have a different story and a different level of vested interest in you — but regardless, you have the ability to take all their life experiences and make ‘informed’ decisions based on their advice and your own morals.
So how do you develop such enriching personal and professional relationships?
- Be honest and open — show your personality.
- If you’re genuinely curious, ask questions.
- Don’t have a pre-defined ‘mentor’ criteria — you’ll find mentors in people you’d least expect.
- Touch base in a couple of months.
- Don’t try too hard (please).
Also, a weird trick; but map all your ‘mentors’ on a page and cluster by where you met them, in what context and the area they pursue their work. Stick it on your wall as a reminder to call upon these mentors if you’re stuck on a particular issue or want to share a piece of work.
On another note, sometimes you’ll meet inspiring mentors that you might never see again and you will never be able to thank them. That is okay. Remember what they said, record it, and apply it. When the time is right, you’ll have the chance to pay it forward many more times.
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