A few years ago my friend Kevin decided to get a few guy-friends from undergrad and B-school together for a weekend getaway on a farm in Lexington, KY. The idea was to get some younger, bright business people together with some more experienced mentors for an entire weekend to discuss life, business and the intersection of the two. Over the years we’ve moved from city to city and had some fantastic mentors commit to spending the entire weekend building into us. We’ve also had some great guests including Harry Baxter, Jason Fried, John Y. Brown, and others spend an entire day with us discussing the intricacies of business and life strategy.
These yearly get-togethers have become something that I anticipate for months in advance because I get so much out of spending time with and absorbing wisdom from the participants. They have really reinforced for me the importance of mentorship, and relationship in general, to a healthy life. I’ve learned things that have significantly accelerated my growth in business, and how I think about what I really want from life.
Who builds into you? Where do you go to get inspiration and advice? Do you have a network of mentors in your life who provide support, encouragement and experience-based wisdom? We all need one, but how do you find it?
One of the best places to find a mentor, or several of them, is to look within your own industry for people who are a little farther down the path. It’s still surprising to me how willing people are to help out if you simply extend yourself to them. Most people who have achieved a degree of success in their life and career are looking for a way to give back to the industry that has helped them. You may have to try a few times and with different people, (people are busy, after all), but eventually if you are persistent you will find someone willing to spend time with you.
What’s the ask? I’d suggest that you don’t immediately jump to “will you be my lifelong mentor?” but instead simply ask if you could take them out to lunch for an hour at their convenience. Be totally flexible. I don’t care if they want to eat at Masa, pick up the bill. Yes, they probably make a lot more money than you do, but picking up the bill is a reminder to you that this is an investment in your career and an indication to the other person that you recognize that their time is valuable.
I tend to reach out to the several mentor-figures in my life about twice per year, or when I’m at a significant turning point in my life. This is about the right frequency and prevents them from feeling like they are obligating themselves. If they want to meet more than that, let them initiate.
Also, if you see opportunities to help your mentor by utilizing your skills, offer to do so. It’s a great way to show appreciation for their advice and help. If you design, offer to design. If you build websites, offer to help them when they need it. While they are the expert in their own area, you are the expert in yours. Look for ways you can support your mentor.
If you can’t think of any mentor candidates on your own, ask your peers if they know of anyone who would fit the bill. They may have friends, relatives or others who would make good candidates.
Don’t overlook the fact that many of your peers are mentoring candidates in ways that go beyond your job. For example, they may have experiences in some area of interest that could help you develop your skills or grow in some desired way. Being at your same level organizationally doesn’t mean that they aren’t farther along in other ways. It’s important that you understand what you want and then look for people who can help you get there.
It’s absolutely critical that you have mentor-figures in your life. It can make all the difference in helping you avoid common pitfalls and recognize career opportunities.