Don’t ask “how?” before you’ve asked “who?”

Nicolas Cole
Jul 11 · 6 min read
Nicolas Cole Instagram

I firmly believe mentorship is the single most effective form of personal development.

You might want a mentor with expertise in a specific skill. You might be looking for someone who has certain personality traits you want to develop within yourself. All in all, it really doesn’t matter what you want to improve — a mentor, in just about any capacity, will shorten your learning curve and raise your ceiling, simultaneously.

However, a lot of people really struggle to understand how to find a mentor in the first place. They know the value; they just have no idea how to go about finding a mentor in the first place.

I’ve had mentors my entire life. My first mentor figure was actually my piano teacher growing up — a quiet man who didn’t know much about video games or the internet (my passions as a budding teenager), but who had mastered the art of Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven. He was an incredibly talented pianist, and would often tell me that unless I promised to practice, he was going to call my mother and tell her to, and I quote, “Duct tape me to the piano bench.” He’d leave my piano books covered in red pencil markings, and would often stand on the other side of the room whenever I was playing a piece from memory — and then shout things like, “louder, louder,” while slamming his hand against the wall to keep the beat of the metronome.

Needless to say, he had high expectations for me as a 12-year-old learning classical piano.

He was also the reason I had such an impressive repertoire by the time I graduated from high school.

Over the years, I’ve learned there is a method as to how to find a mentor for yourself.

My second mentor was a gamer who was one of the best World of Warcraft players in North America. He and I became friends, and within two years of playing together, he helped me become one of the highest ranked 3v3 players in North America too.

My third mentor was a power lifter, who became my lifting partner all throughout college. We lifted every day together for almost three years, and he helped me go from being a brand new member of the gym to being a full-on bodybuilder.

My fourth mentor was an entrepreneur and creative director of an advertising agency in downtown Chicago. For almost four years, I worked alongside him. I followed him to meetings. I took on any and every project he’d let me be part of. And he helped me grow from being a kid with a degree in fiction writing into an entrepreneur and professional writer myself.

And I’ve attracted a handful of other types of mentors in the business world since.

If you want to know how to find a mentor, then take it from someone who has found mentor figures over and over again: these are the six qualities you’re looking for in the person you hope to learn from.

1. Availability

First and foremost, in order for someone to be a mentor, they also have to be available.

However, when I say “available,” I don’t mean they have to be willing to meet with you five times per week, or always answer your call. In some cases, “availability” might mean getting an hour of their time per month — or every three months. Obviously, the more available someone is, the more opportunities you’ll have to learn from them, but what’s more important is the impact they’re able to deliver in whatever time they give you.

For example, several mentor figures in my life now are only available once a month, if that. But the value they provide in those one to two hours per month is so dramatic that it’s well worth the effort to make those small pockets of time happen.

2. Willingness

Some people just aren’t willing to share what they know. Period.

The best mentors don’t think or act this way. Every mentor figure I’ve ever had in my life has shared so much that, in most cases, I’ve actually had to ask for very little. They’re invested in my development, so they’re excited to call out the next thing I need to do or learn — and then help me get there as soon as possible.

The more willing a mentor figure is to teach you, the better.

3. Honesty

Mentors aren’t cheerleaders. Mentors are people who tell it like it is.

If you find yourself wanting to learn from someone, but feel like they’re only telling you what you want to hear, then you need to look elsewhere. A great mentor isn’t there to make you feel good about the decisions you’re making — a great mentor makes you question why you’re doing what you’re doing, so you can make informed and effective decisions.

Don’t mistake the former for the latter.

4. Credibility

It’s one thing to learn from someone who says all the right things, but doesn’t practice what they preach.

It’s another to learn directly from someone who walks their own talk.

When looking for a mentor, you always want to ask how you can find someone who is already doing the thing you want to do yourself. For example: my piano teacher was also a talented pianist with his own career; my gaming mentor was also one of the most competitive gamers in the country; my lifting mentor was a power lifter who spent three hours in the gym every single day, seven days per week; my entrepreneurship mentor was the founder of his own company; etc.

There’s very little to gain learning from someone who only knows “in theory.” What you’re looking for is someone who is at the top of their game, and willing to let you hang around.

5. Network

Real exponential results start to happen when the person mentoring you has mentors of their own — which you gain access to by proximity.

For example, when I was working at this advertising agency in Chicago, my boss (the founder) became my mentor. However, because I spent so much time around him, I also (informally) received mentorship from all the people he was learning from — venture capitalists, global creative directors, etc. In fact, some of the biggest lessons I learned during those years working with him were lessons I soaked up from people in his network.

So the more you can find a mentor figure with mentor figures of their own, the better.

6. Positive Energy

Part of learning how to find a mentor means accepting that you are going to spend a lot of time around whoever it is you want to learn from.

In most cases, mentorship meant me giving up a lot of time spent with other people in order to invest as much time as possible into whoever I was learning from at that time. For example, I spent three hours in the gym, every single day, all throughout college — simply because I didn’t want to miss a single lift with the power lifter who was teaching me everything I needed to know.

What this means, though, is you also have to be aware of what sort of energy you’ll be soaking up along the way. In order to be mentored, you have to spend a lot of time around the person teaching you. But if they aren’t the sort of person you want to be like (their energy), then realize it’s going to become a burden for you to spend so much time with them.

The goal is to find someone you not only want to learn from, but also thoroughly enjoy being around — and who has personality traits you want for yourself. This way, mentorship becomes an exponential learning process.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Nicolas Cole

Written by

Writer | Founder of Digital Press | 4x Top Writer on Quora | 50M+ Views |

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade