If You’re Living Without A Mentor, You’re Not Living
Frankly, my career in my early twenties has been more like a perpetual pain tolerance test for emotional whiplash. To put it simply: it has hurt. When you go through hard times it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have rather than what you do. But in the midst of all these ups and downs I realized that the only thing more consistent than the unexpected career roadblocks, has been the support, guidance, and wisdom of the people around me. I didn’t have a job, or money, or a freakin’ clue what I wanted to do, but I did have them.
These people I speak of come in all shapes and sizes, and they have all kinds of titles and jobs. They’ve made mistakes and they’ve been massively successful. And you know what they all have in common? Me. For whatever reason, by the grace of God, they’ve invested even the smallest piece of themselves in my success. These people are my mentors.
I can’t tell you how many college lectures I sat through talking about the importance of “networking” and developing mentor-level relationships with internship supervisors or professors. It’s not that I didn’t believe this, but as a student I had yet to immediately associate any big break in my career to relationships I had made other than my sorority sisters. But this was my first mistake. As young professionals just starting out, we have the habit of associating the word “mentor” with people who get us jobs or write us letters of recommendations. It’s not that mentors don’t do these things, it’s just not all they do. And in my experience, it’s that other stuff that’s made all the difference.
So what DO mentors do? Whether you have one or are one yourself, these are the things I have valued the most from my mentors.
They give it to you straight.
Let’s face it, you just need someone who is going to tell the unfiltered truth. Sure the truth can be brutal and ugly, but in the end you’ll be grateful for such honesty. If you come to your mentor with a problem or concern, a good mentor won’t sugar coat their response. If they think you were taken advantage in a salary negotiation, they will tell you. If they think you shouldn’t have spoken up in a meeting, they will tell you that too.
They offer real examples.
At some point in their life, your mentor probably went through a scenario similar to what you’re going through now. But because they’ve already lived through it, they can give real examples of how they handled it. Believe me, anecdotal evidence is worth it’s weight in gold. When I was debating whether I wanted to work abroad, I talked to one of my mentors who had done it and she walked me through her decision making process. She gave me information to consider based on her experience I would have never known otherwise.
They make you think.
Just because you and your mentor probably have a lot in common, doesn’t mean you think the same way. In fact, I encourage you to seek out people who think differently. During one of my job searches I was hungry for this one position I was in the running for. I thought it was the dream job and I was blind to any potential negatives. I was out to brunch with one of my mentors and she started asking me what the growth path was at this company. “Yeah, Meredith the job sounds great right now, but you’d be working remotely, there’s no real structure…how do you grow when there’s no where to move up?” I was stumped. I hadn’t thought about that. In my final interview I asked a lot questions related to growth, and I was shocked they couldn’t answer them. Suffice to say, I don’t work there.
They test you.
If there’s anything I’ve learned the last couple years it’s that the moment you stop being challenged, a part of you stops learning. Fortunately mentors are put on this earth to pick up the slack and push you out of your comfort zone. One of my mentors is a master networker, and she always encourages me to join this group or reach out to these people. In the beginning I listened intently to her suggestions, but often didn’t follow through. What can I say, I don’t have an overwhelming desire to talk with strangers. At one point though, she took matters into her own hands and personally set up introductions forcing me into one of two scenarios: 1. Grow a pair, follow through and respond or 2. Don’t respond, look like an idiot, and worse, embarrass my hard-working mentor. It’s clear I really didn’t have a choice. She knew I was capable of something and she challenged me to put myself out there. Today I find myself more and more comfortable networking and talking to new people.
They buy you a drink.
At the end of the day, your mentor has your back. They genuinely care about you and they feel what you feel. And every once in a while whether you’re celebrating your victories or drowning your sorrows, they will pick up the tab. Take it from someone who has been in both scenarios, sometimes there’s nothing like sharing a stiff cocktail with someone who gets it. And know that someday when you’re as successful as they are, you’ll pay it forward and put your mentee’s martini on your tab.
Do you have a mentor? Share this post and tag the person who has been helpful in your career!