What do you want to learn (in life)?
If you’re curious about mentoring, this question is where it starts. (Or at least where it started for me). I always wanted a mentor. Someone who could tell me all the secrets. Everything. It never happened. It was only recently that I realised that this is not what mentoring is about. It’s not about your mentor or what they can lecture you about. It’s much more about yourself.
What do you want to learn (in life)? … You probably already have an answer to this. If not, this is the time to think about it! Don’t just start looking for someone to mentor you as I did. You need to understand what you want to learn first, and then find like-minded individuals that are already successful at it. In the end, mentoring is just another form of learning. It’s learning from the experiences and stories of others.
How to find the right mentor
Be careful with people who offer to be your mentor. They might not be good at what they are doing. Platforms like ADPlist.com are great and I used them myself, but if someone has several hours each week to be your mentor, they might not perform at an exceptional level at their job. You want to be mentored by the best. The people who do an incredible job at all hours of the day — and don’t actually have time for mentoring. So don’t wait for a mentor to approach you.
Surround yourself with people who are living the life you want to live.
Find a founder, CEO, or leader who you truly admire. If you cannot think of someone right away, think of a company or start-up that fascinates you. These businesses were started and built by individuals like you and me. Reach out to them. Don’t ask for mentorship directly. Tell them why you admire them. Tell them what you’re working on and tell them about the problem you’re faced with. And don’t forget to state what you can bring to the table (more on that below).
9/10 people will ignore you. Follow up once after 1–2 weeks. Most of the time, people read your message in situations where they just don’t have time to reply. So follow up. Once. Maybe twice. If they don’t reply, move on. Don’t take it personally.
However, if they reply — and you’ll wonder how many high execs or even CEOs do — you can ask them for a 20min chat in person or online. Don’t ask for a coffee chat. It’s not about coffee. Don’t expect an ongoing mentorship. Nobody has time to be your mentor. These people are extremely busy but time efficient. So use every minute that they give you to your advantage. Usually, 20min with a mentor who isn’t really a mentor is 100 times more valuable than a dozen sessions with someone who offers you to be your mentor and can carve out an hour for you each day. Again, you want to be mentored by the best.
Don’t stop at the individual level. Also, seek out to companies. One of my mentors reached out to the contact email address of a start-up he was fascinated by. He wasn’t seeking a job. He just saw an opportunity to support an early mover and wanted to expand his network. He offered his advice and expertise in design and of course, they thankfully took it.
It’s not all about what you can get out of a mentorship. Always think about what you can give! There is always something to give — even if you’re just starting your professional career (like me). If you’re excited by a certain start-up, you’re likely also one of its early adopters. So if there is nothing else you can offer, there is always room for honest feedback on their product. Most businesses could need some outsider perspective of what they are confronted with day to day.
What are we even talking about?
Again, don’t expect an ongoing dialogue. See this as a one-time opportunity to speak with someone who is where you might want to be. Value it. Don’t waste time talking about the weather. Instead, confront them with something you’re challenged with. Ask them how they would approach it. And when they respond, listen closely and be proactive.
When your session is over, you want to take the time to reflect and act on their advice. Apply it. You don’t necessarily need to meet up again and again. Sometimes, one chat can be enough to change your perspectives. If you get an idea of how to add value to your mentor on ongoing bases, reach out to them again. If they get back, chances are high that you did something well.
Any mentee who can add more perspective here, please do in the comments!
Disclaimer: I wrote this article for myself. To figure out stuff while I am executing. To reflect, and to learn. I came to believe that the writing process helps me to crystallize the chaos in my mind. It can only get better, so if you want to share your tips and feedback with me, feel free to leave a comment.