Question from you: How do you choose your mentors?
January 18, 2013
I feel like it’s been a while since I did a question-answer post, and here’s one I had been saving for some reason. It’s from a reader named Robyn.
I love how you mention mentors on occasion, and hoped you could answer a few detail questions for me (either via e-mail or on your blog).
How do you choose your mentors? Are they folks you actually meet with (via skype, coffee, or e-mail)? Do you pick different mentors for different aspects of your life? How long does a typical mentor relationship last for you? What types of things do you gain from your mentorships, how do you pass that on to folks you mentor? Who was your first mentor, and how did you decide you wanted/needed mentors in your life?
Thanks for your email! I often mention that I think some of the best ways to educate and develop yourself is to have mentors as part of your supportive personal community. It’s a great idea to sort of open a discussion though about where all these wonderful people come from! If you’re wondering where to find people to encourage and direct you as you take on a new project or grow what you’re already passionately building, you may already have a few people in mind. I think it’s a great idea to check out the events they tend to frequent, hang out in some new places–not to stalk them or attach to them, but to get acclimated to the environment of creativity or productivity and conversation that supports those kinds of people. It wasn’t until I started going to the free events held locally by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees, and Silicon Prairie News that I found out about all the awesome people that I really needed to know. And that’s led to so many connections all over the world.
Besides that, you have to keep forging ahead doing your own thing. Never wait for someone to follow. Share your progress and your thoughts and as much behind-the-scenes as you can, and participate with enthusiasm in the conversations you see happening around you–whether it’s through Facebook or Twitter, or a book group or poetry slam you know about at a local shop, or a networking club at a college. The point is, involve yourself. Don’t wait to be asked.
Okay, there’s that advice–take it or leave it. For mentors I’ve had, it was never something I forced. I usually met them at an event or conference, had a conversation with them, and became friends. I typically pursued the relationship because I felt I had a lot to learn from them. I like to Skype and text and call, I like to meet for wine, and I’m a big fan of communicating often with Twitter direct messages because it keeps the conversation short. I reach out to them when I have questions usually. They check up on me too.
There have been a few occasions when I’ve asked for mentorship…it’s almost like asking someone on a date. You sort of have to feel some chemistry and be prepared for a letdown if the other person can’t for whatever reason–no time, no energy, too many irons in the fire, etc. I’ve opened up the conversation by saying something like, “There’s a lot I’m trying to figure out now in my business, what direction I want to go in, and you’ve really impressed me and I was hoping I could tap in to some of your positivity and encouragement. Do you think we could do a weekly call, or can we exchange some emails, because I could really use your guidance.” I have two friends who I talk on the phone with every few weeks–we just catch up, help each other with our problems, and look out for opportunities for each other.
It can be hard to be that forward with someone you admire, or sometimes you just want a relationship to be more casual, so you don’t always have to do a formal “will you mentor me” thing. I’ve also never worked with an “end date” in mind. Most of the people I would call mentors are still people I come to and talk to when I need guidance, and they’re still people who care about what I’m up to.
I think my first mentor was my elementary art teacher named Linda Jorgenson. She believed I had a special talent and cultivated my creativity. She gave me more difficult work and helped me do an independent study on ancient Egyptian art, and continued to support and advise me through college. One mentor I have now in my life would be Dusty Davidson, who has always made me feel important, understood, and who has also done a lot to encourage and develop Hello Holiday. There are a few other gentlemen I’ve met who I have calls with every once in a while to check in.
Women mentors are also starting to play a bigger role in my life. I wouldn’t say I have any officially, but Tara Hunt and Cindy Gallop in particular are two women I’ve crossed paths with who are SO impressive and intelligent, and have offered so much inspiration and insight into what I’m trying to build and create. Their humility in success and honesty in failure is something that really makes me want to be better.
Hope this helps, or at least gets you thinking.