Monday, April 3, 2017

12 ideas, suggestions, and ways to identify mentors when they are simply not around

I spent the earlier part of my career without mentors. In my mind at that time, I envisioned mentor relationships as me (young and inexperienced) being paired with an older, more experienced version of myself. Then after years of being groomed with said mentor, I would magically become a successful professional and be eternally grateful to my mentor for believing me.

Years went by. And my definition of a “mentor” just never showed up.

At first, I created all sorts of stories of why I didn't have mentors, because I didn’t quite truly understand why. The way I thought to solve the mentor problem was to work harder in hopes of my "mentor" noticing and taking an interest in me.

More years went by...and still, no magical mentor showed up.

By that time I realized that working harder wasn't the answer either to finding mentors. But where were mentors hiding?

I kept asking and seeking answers, which eventually brought me back to the person in the mirror.

In hindsight, I didn't have the right mindset to create a network of mentors around me.

Once I made that decision, everything changed.  I realized that I did have access to mentors - I just needed to change my approach.   

Today, I am thankful because I am surrounded by literally hundreds of mentors. And you can too.

Here are some ideas, suggestions, and ways that you can identify mentors in your life when they are simply not around.

Redefine what mentorship means

  • Refrain from unrealistic expectations of what mentor is supposed to do for you.  This means to stop having expectations of people around you and begin being thankful for a moment, a season, or lifetime of support.    Earlier on I had unrealistic expectations of what a mentor was supposed to do for me or how long they had to be around in my life.  People come in and out of our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime; mentors are no different.  
  • Lower your expectations of formal mentoring relationships.  While formal mentors can be a great starting point to help you identify/create a pivot, I have found the best mentorship relationships were informal, unlikely, and at best, accidental.
  • Stop thinking that you need to actually have met or spent time with a mentor…or that a mentor is even a living person.   Another decision I made was to think that a mentor had to be someone that I met with for a monthly coffee meetup or quarterly lunches.   I have never met some of the life altering mentors that I have.  I identify specific experiences or skills that I emulate in an individual and mentally decide to make that person my mentor.  I learn from the best in the world by following their lives online, reading their books, or attending their seminars/speaking engagements.
  • Redefine what “quality” time with mentors mean for you.  I initially thought effective mentor relationships meant I would have constant face to face time.  While that is nice for those that could make frequent high touch contact work, it’s unrealistic.   I have a handful of mentors I speak to over the phone a 1-2 times a year or see them in person once a year but I email and text with them several times a week.    With one mentor we regularly send each other affirmations throughout the week via Instagram and then meet monthly to discuss. You figure out what mutually works for the relationship. Don’t be afraid to get creative or change dynamics to meet evolving schedules and needs. Life is not static and neither should your mentor relationships.
  • Know what you are seeking in developmental relationships – and what you can offer in return.  I remember the first time I decided that I needed to find a mentor.  I didn’t really know what I was expecting of one or what I had to offer.  Know your why.   

Redefine who a mentor is

  • Understand that mentors are human and to be human is to err.  Just like I have personal life triumphs and challenges, mentors do as well.  Earlier in my life, I used to think that someone who is a mentor is a perfect individual with all of the answers to my life questions.  Sometimes the best mentors in life are those that have made grave mistakes you can learn from. 
  • Seek out diverse mentors.  Some of my best mentors were individuals –both men and women – that have a radically different personality, ethnicity, upbringing, or religious/political world point of view than I do.  Diverse mentors have helped me tremendously, giving me an anchor of multi-dimensional perspectives that I would have never had otherwise.   
  • Informal mentors can be used for any part of your life.  Mentorship doesn’t only have to be someone for your career.  You can also have mentors that will help you become a better spouse, parent, gardener, sibling, community organizer, or spiritual leader.   The need for mentorship is vast and limitless. 

Identify mentors you may not realize that you have access to

  • Mentees can also be mentors.  I have numerous, very impressive mentees over the course of my career that at some point have also become a mentor for me.   I learn more from being a mentor than anything else!
  • Activate a distant role model.  You may see or indirectly work with someone who is a vision of success locally in your building or office.   I remember having a number of individuals that I didn’t speak to but I admired from afar.  Take that admiration one step further and initiate conversations regularly without any expectations. Get to know them personally instead of putting them on a pedestal; you may be surprised about what you learn about them...and yourself.
  • Pay for professional mentors through the use of life coaches.  Sometimes you need a professional opinion with an entirely different perspective for a specified time and need.   Seek out professional mentor relationships with the use of life coaches that you personally pay for.  For some, the peace of mind of being able to run ideas by an objective individual without an agenda or judgment that can also be an accountability partner can be quite effective.   
  • Informal mentors can come from any part of your life.  I have found mentors through college friends, distant relatives, professional associates, and even former college professors. A colleague with 4 kids jokes regularly that her kids have become her personal board of directors.