Who is a mentor?
An experienced and trusted adviser.
That’s the definition straight out of the dictionary. Adviser, guide, guru, counselor, consultant, confidant… are other words used to describe a mentor.
In simple terms, a mentor is someone that has “been there, done that,” and is willing to give you advice on how you can do it too.
They will help you get there faster but not because of any trick or secret formula, you will still have to do the work. But they will help you avoid the mistakes they made which will cut your learning curve short.
The Value of a Mentor
Matt: the topic of mentors is something difficult to write about because we don’t want this to be just another article which says, “mentors are important.” We want to really take a more detailed look at a mentor’s value along with how to find one. Yet, it should be stated, the reason there are many articles on mentorship is because having a mentor is one of the pillars of success along with reading, goal setting, and other practices.
Looking at a mentor’s value, I am going to nerd out for a moment. The first time I saw the Matrix I was blown away and one of the things I craved was the ability to learn like Neo. If you are the one person who does not know about the Matrix, we will not discuss the plot, but he was able to learn skills by connecting his brain to a computer.
In real life, we don’t connect our brains to computers (yet), we connect to people.
I have sat with mentors who have transferred decades of knowledge to me in the course of a couple hours.
One of the basic aspects of mentorship is the ability to quickly absorb wisdom that took the other person years to gain. Imagine understanding the fundamentals of business strategy, leadership, design, blogging, or thousands of other topics in the amount of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.
Understanding does not mean you can flawlessly execute, yet you can learn the basics immediately. That is mentorship.
A mentor can easily provide insights, advice, and resources they have gained over the years within an hour if not minutes when we are ready to listen.
Alejandro: Mentors are valuable because of their knowledge, but most important because of their wisdom. They can help you interpret knowledge, challenges, and situations from a wiser point of view because of the experiences they’ve had.
In most cases, many of the things we want to achieve have already been done by someone else. Or at least something similar. Our job is to find those people, and ask good questions, to get valuable insights.
How to Find a Mentor
Matt: some of the best advice I have ever received came from a mentor (cliche). He said, “look for people that you respect and are too busy for you.”
There is a fine line between stalking and persistence, yet his point was to look for people who are doing what you want to and are busy.
You can find these people through conferences, your career center, reading blogs, your professional circles, among hundreds of other places. The point is you need to take the initiative to:
- Find people you want to connect with
- Make sure they are doing what you want to do
- Be persistent
Your persistence is the key to finding a mentor that will add value to your life. You do not want to find someone who wants to be a mentor. That needs to set in, do not skim past that sentence.
You do not want a mentor who is desperate to be a mentor. You want a mentor who is so busy that you do whatever it takes to meet with them.
Look for those people as one meeting with them will give you years of insights instantly.
It might take weeks or months to find even one person who fits the above criteria, the key is to constantly search. You can find a mentor anywhere as long as you are looking.
Alejandro: Mentors are everywhere around us. We will find them once we decide to look for them.
I’ve had great mentors such as Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch, and Tony Robbins. I know what you are thinking: How is it possible that Alejandro knows those people? Well, I don’t. But I have read many of their books! In those, they share their experiences, advice, and insights. It may not be exactly the same as having a live conversation because I cannot ask questions. But it is like listening to their general advice, and there’s a lot of value there.
Many companies or schools have mentorship programs, that will make it easier to find one. The key thing is that you have to be clear about what type of mentorship are you looking for.
Are you looking for a career mentor? A life mentor? Health mentor? This goes back to knowing your purpose, passion, and goals. Once you have a clear view of what is it that you want to accomplish, then finding someone that can guide you through that process will be easier.
What YOU Should Do
Matt: when you find that person you want to learn from, all of the pressure is on you. Take initiative.
- If they say they can’t meet for three months, then you put a reminder on your calendar to contact them in exactly three months saying, “I know you are busy, yet you asked me to reach back out in three months.”
- If they can only meet over the phone then take that opportunity and don’t force an in-person meeting.
- If they say, “we can meet after you read this book.” Then read the book, take notes, and send them a summary of what you learned.
There is a lost art of apprenticeship. Being an apprentice does not mean being a slave. It is the idea of following instruction which results in immersive learning and mastery.
The point is to take initiative and honor the person who is giving their time and years of experience. Some of my mentors live in different states and I only communicate with them by email. I am grateful for their advice and make sure to do as they advise, then report back for more valuable knowledge.
Some of my mentors are so busy that if I get any time with them I do not waste it with trivial topics and immediately ask them for insights which they are willing to provide.
YOU are the one receiving and need to actively do what is asked in order to not be a burden which will result in you being rewarded with expertise in specific areas. There is also something else you will be rewarded with, after the process of finding and listening to mentors, you will then become a mentor.
It will be when you least expect it, but people will be reaching out to you when you are too busy to help out. In a moment you will realize that now it is your turn to give back to others just as you received. This continues the cycle of mentorship from one generation to the next.
Alejandro: DON’T ask anyone: "Can you be my mentor?" It will be just like walking up to a girl you’ve just met and asking if she wants to marry you.
You should start with small asks.
Maybe asking about some books or resources related to the goals you want to achieve. Or you could ask about their favorite TED Talk or documentary. Then follow back saying thank you for the recommendations and sharing the best insights you got from the content they recommended. You could invite them for a coffee to further discuss the book, or ask for advice on something that you want to do in your career (i.e. something they have already done).
Slowly, by asking for small investments from their part, and by showing that you are willing to do the work, you will start developing a relationship.
In the next article we will share specific steps you can take to find mentors and start building meaningful and valuable relationships with them.
This is a series of articles by Alejandro I. Sanoja and Matt Avery