Oh my goodness. This is a really tough question. It’s a question about relationships. How do you find a best friend? How do you find a life partner? How do you find a mentor? I wish I had an easy answer, or frankly any answer that would work consistently. A mentor is someone for whom you’re significant, who believes in you, who likes you as a person, who enjoys spending time with you, who enjoys helping you grow, both personally and professionally, who is loyal, and who will extend herself to help you succeed. Many more descriptors can be added to that list. But the topic of this post is not, “What is a mentor?” The topic is, “How the heck do you find one?”
Even though we’re not going to find the answer, it’s important to struggle with the question. So here are my thoughts. First, it’s important to know who you are, what kind of person you think your ideal mentor would be, and what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship. You can readily see that the answers to these questions will be different for every person, and therefore the descriptors of your ideal mentor are unique to you. It’s much easier to find something if you know what you’re looking for. Answering those questions will give you a start.
Next, I encourage you to think about how you formed relationships with other important people in your life. How did you meet your best friends? Your significant other? What were you doing at the time? What were your initial attractions? Why did you both decide you wanted to spend more time with each other? Answering those questions might well provide some valuable insight.
Next, I encourage you to participate in professional associations where you increase the odds of meeting people who share your professional interests and who might also be willing to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom. Community service groups also provide worthwhile opportunities.
Next, understand that your mentor might not initiate. You might have to ask the person on a first date. If you have (or have had) a significant other, think about how you started the relationship. Whether you hooked up or just had a beer, you probably didn’t jump into a discussion about a long-term relationship. You probably just decided whether you wanted to see each other again.
If you meet someone you think might be mentor material, don’t immediately discuss a mentoring relationship. Just ask them out. Have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a corn dog. Get to know each other. See where it goes. Maybe a mentoring relationship will develop over time. But remember, this really is very much like dating. If you don’t ask, you’re done. The possibility will pass you by.
Thanks to Matt Ream for suggesting this topic.
And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.
Larry Sternberg, Talent Plus Fellow and Advisor
You can learn more about Larry here.