Find a Mentor. Be a Mentor

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people you admire, says Gavin Strange

Jim Marsden/ Do Lectures

As an entrepreneur or as someone simply carving out their own career path, for the most part the journey is travelled alone. It is as unique as you are and will take unexpected twists and turns — all part of the fun, of course.

That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t have companions along the way though, and a mentor can be an invaluable guide. Any journey towards being your best self is a long and sometimes confusing one, so to have someone you can call on, who is perhaps a few steps ahead of you and is willing to share some of their own wisdom and experiences … well, that’s pure magic.

So how do you get a mentor? Kidnap is always an option, but makes it a bit hard to establish a rapport, so maybe not. The other, much nicer and more ethical, way is simply to ask. A mentor isn’t some ethereal Obi-Wan spirit that’s always around you. It can be someone you email once a year. It can be someone you call once a fortnight. There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to be a mentor or how to be mentored.

I’m lucky enough to have a few mentors that I admire greatly — yes, you can have more than one! — people I’m forever asking questions and learning from. They are all extremely patient and I couldn’t be more appreciative. My friend Merlin Crossingham shares with me his knowledge of filmmaking and animation. Dan Efergan has been my mentor ever since I joined Aardman, sharing how he creatively directs himself, his projects and team of colleagues. You learn so much from doing, but you also learn from just listening.

If you can find people who inspire you, people who are doing what you want to do, talk to them. Find out their names. Give them a call. Drop them an email. Make contact. Tell them who you are, what you’re doing and whether they mind if you ask them some questions, maybe suggest a cuppa. Then if you want, just ask them outright if they’d mind becoming a mentor. It’s a flattering thing to be asked, so don’t be afraid.

There’s no limit on how many mentors you can have. You’ll find that different people — depending on their location, the time they have available, their connection to you — will bring something different to your relationship. Have a couple, have five, it’s up to you.

It’s not a one-way street either. Make sure you return the favour and become a mentor for others. As you learn and progress, wherever you are in your own career, your experiences can really help others, so make yourself open to becoming a mentor. It may be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.

Gavin Strange is a Senior Designer at Aardman Animations, the four-times Academy Award-winning studio behind Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit. He is a believer in creative side-projects and develops his own under the JamFactory moniker.

Extract from Do Fly: Find Your way. Make a living. Be your best self. by Gavin Strange. Copyright © 2016 by Gavin Strange. Published by The Do Book Co.

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