It’s time to break up with the romantic idea that there is one mentor out there for you.
I am frequently asked:
“Who are your mentors?”
“How did you find them?” and
“Is there any chance I could borrow one?”
My responses still surprise me.
“My mentors are always changing.”
“There are SO many of them!” and
“There is no one mentor for one mentee.”
And while there are many incredible mentors in my life, my mentors haven’t always been there with consistency. In 2012, I had a successful small business and held the title of Australia’s Young Professional Engineer of the Year. Then one day, I looked over my shoulder, and I realized I was alone. This was in fact my perception, not my reality. And this matters enough to share here.
Today, “Having Mentors” in your life is a state of mind, rather than an actual list of people you can write about on your website. We are constantly interacting with and learning through others, and gone are the days of signing mentor-mentee pledges each year.
So in 2012 when I most felt alone in my business, what I needed was not a mentor, but the confidence to reach out to the many wonderful people who were already around me, and the willingness to ask questions.
Today I am the beneficiary of wonderful mentors. I remember their advice, their sayings, their support, and their warnings. There are those who turn up once every six months, and those who turn up every week, and equally - there are some who have only ever once passed me by but left such an impact I will think of them as though our conversation was yesterday.
Here are my mentors, and how you might identify them in your life:
The dot joiner: Thank god someone in my life knows how to chart the stars. Some days they take all your pieces and hug you so tight they all stick back together again - and in a better arrangement than before. Other days they take a perfectly fine idea and scale it to the moon. You will recognize this person because they will say things like “you need to meet ...” and “let’s partner with ...” Note that true dot-joiners make connections that surprise and delight you.
The problem solver: Smarter than you will ever be on a particular topic, they get into the weeds of your problem and talk tactics. They are industry specific, successful, and well-read. You will recognize this person because they will say “what you need to do/know is...” and “here are the steps I took to...” and “here is what I recommend you do...” You may not agree with their solutions, but they will always have one.
The coach: Someone to hold your hand but never steer your ship. They ask questions and actively listen for moments when you aren’t sure - then they run down that rabbit hole to explore. They aren’t invested in what you do with your life, they are invested in how and why you do what you do. They say things such as: “in the past, what has/has not worked for you in a similar situation...?” And “what is your biggest challenge right now...?” And “what does success look like for you...?”
The thought partner: This is the person you can freely brainstorm with over a meal but you never worry that they will steal your ideas. The conversation is enlightening, invigorating and inspiring, you feel tall. You know them because they will say “have you heard about ...” and “go onto this website and read about ...” mutual mentoring and shared inspiration is key to your relationship here.
The vault: To whom did you last say the words “I failed!”? This is the person that you are able to be most vulnerable with, to let down your guard, and they still leave you feeling valuable, capable and strong. These mentors allow us to be honest with what we did wrong and grow from the experience. You will recognize them because there is a comfort, not judgment, in their listening silence. They validate your failure and most importantly, they validate your capability to move forward. These mentors are rare. Love them hard.
The quotable: There is always that one person whos words ring on in your ears long after they are gone. They are a human Instagram feed of quotes. “It’s amazing how many once in a lifetime deals come along” and “close your eyes and trust your cape”. The best thing about these mentors is that by repeating their mantras in your head, or like me, saving them in your phone to reference, you spend more mental-time with this person than they will ever know.
The therapist: In America, I discovered that having a therapist was a real luxury, like a status symbol, and equally as important as having a personal trainer or mindfulness coach. How would our communities benefit if everyone had a therapist? And if having a therapist was a sign of also having wisdom and knowledge, like being a member of the AICD or The Exchange? There are many different types of mentors we can have to guide our wellbeing including fitness instructors, mindfulness coaches, meditation instructors, behavioral coaches, counselors, psychotherapists, masseuses and so on. You’ll know who is in your therapy team because you make time for them in your calendar, and they usually show up monthly on your bank statement.
The peer: Got that friend who both inspires and intimidates you with their awesomeness? An hour in their presence and you feel both inadequate and motivated to do more. You’ll recognize them as the friends you most want to ask: “but how did you know what to do next?” They do not prescribe what to do, they inspire us to push harder because we see ourselves in them and them in us. If it’s true that we become the average of the people around us, then keep your average up. Ships rise with the tide.
The self-CEO: We all need a personal CEO to run our lives. This mentor helps you host a retreat in your head for designing your self-strategy, driving business development, dedicating time for personal and professional growth, structured goal setting, and they create accountability. Without them, we would rarely achieve Maslow’s highest order of self-actualisation. They are usually not all that well-known to us and at the same time, they are highly respected by us. Some weeks they take the form of an inspirational person who recommends a book (i.e. read “Designing your Life”) and other weeks they are your boss helping you set your professional targets. At different stages of your life, they will be paid to be there for you. You’ll know them because they will ask you “what do you value?” and “what’s your deep why?”
The first step to “have a mentor” is to break up with the romantic idea that you will find one person who will solve problems, help navigate, inspire, develop strategy, recommend books, and provide quotes to guide you when you are apart.
Having mentors is part of having a growth mindset, and accepting that there are many people around you who are fulfilling the role of “mentor” to you.
As a little homework, write a list of the 100 people who have in some way inspired, guided and mentored you in the last 12 months. Can you find someone for all of the categories above? These people form your personal board of advisors, an exercise I took from fellow Stanford University Graduate Jim Collins who wrote the book, Good to Great. https://www.jimcollins.com/concepts.html