Who do you turn to when facing a tough decision? Do you have someone you can depend on for good, solid, reliable advice when you are uncertain?
Unfortunately, many people don’t have reliable mentors, and they are left to their own instincts or those of their peers. This limits their perspective and prevents them from taking advantage of the patterns of understanding that only emerge over the course of many years of experience in a given field.
If you want to be intentional about your growth and development, you need to seek out others who are farther down the path and who can help you spot opportunity and avoid pitfalls. In The Accidental Creative, I called this group a “Core Team” because they comprise a group of close advisers who can help you plot your career course. (I’ve had many such people in my life over the years, and their advice has been integral to my work.)
But how do you find good, reliable mentors to be a part of your Core Team? In truth, it can be a challenge. You are looking for a person with a very specific set of experiences, but also the willingness to be generous with their time, and a genuine interest in your success and well-being.
Here are a few questions to help you begin your search:
Who in your social circle has experienced success in an area similar to the one you’re pursuing?
This doesn’t necessarily mean a good friend. Rather, it can mean a friend of a friend, or even a co-worker of someone willing to introduce you. Tell your friends and peers what you are looking for, and ask them if there is anyone they know who might be able to help you further down the path. You’ll be surprised how often the answer is “yes”. It’s astounding how many people you are loosely connected to.
Also, note the phrase “similar to”. There are many lessons that transcend specific industries, but there are also times when industry specific knowledge is what you need. However, don’t artificially narrow your search because you are needlessly eliminating potentially valuable relationships.
Once you’ve identified potential candidates, reach out to them and ask if you might engage in a short (15 mintue) phone conversation. A phone call is a much lower bar than lunch or coffee, and it’s more likely to get you an opportunity to connect with the person. Make sure that you’re prepared for the call with a few questions you’d like to ask about work. Do not come unprepared. This is thoroughly disrespectful of the other person’s time. If there is a genuine connection on the phone, ask if you might be able to reach out by e-mail from time to time, or possibly gain another 15 minutes on the phone if you have a dilemma to discuss. Most people are inclined to be helpful.
Who are your virtual mentors?
Now more than ever, there are tons of accomplished professionals across all industries creating media to help others be more effective. Sure, it’s a bit of a one-way conversation, but you might also have access to the best advice of some of the top minds in your industry. I use this to great effect, and am always striving to fill my mind with the advice of others, living and dead, who can help me along with my work. (To get a weekly list of the best things I’m reading, sign up for my email list.)
I claim Dickens as a mentor. He’s my teacher. He’s one of my driving forces. Anne Rice
Once you find someone whose advice resonates with you, soak up everything you can by them. Find podcasts, books, articles, blog posts, interviews, and whatever else they’ve produced. i consume everything produced by a handful of virtual mentors in my life and it has greatly shaped my thinking and work.
Who are your “truth tellers”?
Finally, consider who in your life will speak things to you that others avoid saying because it’s too uncomfortable. We all need mirrors to reflect back to us what they see because self-knowledge is critical to growth. Who do you trust to tell you when you are veering off-course? These kinds of mentors are not what we topically think of, but they are essential to long-term effectiveness. Find them. You won’t regret it.
Ideally, you’ll have all three kinds of mentors (pathfinders, virtual, truth tellers) to turn to when you’re stuck or generally need advice. Make a list of all of the potential candidates. Consider who in your social circle you might reach out to for potential leads. Identify a list of virtual mentors who produce quality content in your area of work. Identify two or three “truth tellers” and give them permission to say whatever they want to you if they believe it to be in your best interest.
Do not try to “go it alone”. Brilliant work is not a solo sport. You will always be much better positioned if you have others in your life to challenge you, encourage you, and keep you on track.