It’s ‘Ment’ to Be: 4 Steps to Mentorship
According to Google, a mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted advisor”. But when I initially started my search for a mentor in college, I defined them more so as any of the following:
- “a person who not only knows all, but who I would burden with my lack of knowledge”.
- “an individual who felt bad that I knew so little that they agreed to mentor me”.
- “a person who could be spending their time on literally anything else and that ‘anything else’ would be way more fun than chatting with me”.
Sound familiar? If so, you must be human. Feeling insecure or a wave of imposter syndrome in many scenarios — like finding a mentor — is so… normal. I’m here to remind you that:
- You’re not overreacting and your feelings are valid.
- Mentors often also feel the pressure of being ✨ awesome ✨ and knowing all things so that they can provide a good experience for you. The sooner you both admit knowing all things is impossible and that you can learn and grow together, the better.
- Mentors are not mentoring to tell you exact next steps. A good mentor will help you lay out next steps based on the options on the table, yes. But a great mentor will first share experiences similar to your situation in case it’s helpful to you without telling you exactly what to do with your life.
- Lastly, and most importantly, that person would not offer to mentor you unless they believed in you. And you may not want to hear this, but the mentorship won’t work out unless you believe in yourself, too.
Not convinced yet? Let me put something in perspective for you. Human beings are really only good at one thing: storytelling. Even before writing on cave walls was trending, generations of beings essentially played one long game of telephone — passing down stories of beliefs, ancestors, and survival essentials.
Everyone can tell a story. It’s why when I ask my 5-year-old cousin how her day went, she dives into a 30-minute story full of plot twists, drama, and a surprising amount of sass (and she’s only describing her morning).
Mentorship is formal, structured storytelling. Like I mentioned before, a great mentor will share their stories. A bad mentor will try to define yours.
So, you want to find a mentor, huh? You’ve come to the right place. And did you know it’s National Mentoring Month? Right place and right time. **Here are the 4 steps toward an ideal mentorship:
- Identify What’s Missing
We could all use a bit of help sometimes. If you’re feeling bad about that, I would take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself why don’t I feel comfortable asking others for help?
For me, it was the strive for perfection growing up. If I thought I might appear dumb to another individual, I kept my mouth shut.
But I changed the game (of my life) when I decided to ask questions whenever I was curious about anything. Instead of defining questions as topics I didn’t know the answer to, they became topics I could know the answer to — so long as I asked as many questions as possible.
So, what could you use some guidance on? What types of experiences do you want to hear about from others?
Actionable Next Step: Write down topics you could use some guidance on somewhere — notes app, pen & paper, forearm. Doesn’t matter. Make that list so you can hold yourself accountable to fill those knowledge gaps through mentorship.
2. Find a Mentor You Can Identify With
Like I mentioned before, great mentors are storytellers. They’ll share their experiences with you in hopes that you can draw similarities to your own life and apply lessons learned to the next steps in your story.
That being said, make sure their story is something that would be helpful to you. A mentor you can “identify with” is defined by you. This can be a mentor with a similar cultural background, a mentor working at your dream company, or perhaps a mentor that attended the same school as you.
Take those topics you listed in Step 1 as a good starting place for who to search for.
Another important note here: mentorship takes time and energy. If this person identifies in some way with you, they’re also more likely to reciprocate interest in becoming your mentor.
Actionable Next Step: Note what’s an important identifier for you and consider that when searching for a mentor.
3. Have an Introductory Meeting
Even if you think you’ve found the perfect mentor based on what you see on paper (or LinkedIn), it’s important to have an introductory meeting. This may seem obvious, but there are some not-so-obvious yet critical topics that should be covered.
First of all, get to know them as a fellow human being on this planet. If you start with that, then you set the foundation for a more authentic relationship. If you dive into chatting about what they can do for you, then the relationship will come off as purely transactional.
If you feel like there’s a good connection, I would first figure out if they have both the interest and bandwidth to mentor you.
To answer those conditions, you’ll likely need to go over most, or ideally all, of the following:
- Goals of the mentorship
- Length of the mentorship
- Frequency of meetings
- Expectations of each other
The key to any good relationship is communication. Be up-front and transparent about what you’re asking from this potential mentor so they have a fair shot to respond accurately.
By defining these conditions, you’re also being realistic that the mentorship could end once everyone’s goals are reached. It’s normal for mentorships to come to a natural end, and defining goals is a good way to avoid an awkwardly long and slowly-deflating mentorship.
Actionable Next Steps: Once you’ve identified a mentor, meet with them, get to know them, and determine if they have both the interest and bandwidth to mentor you.
4. Set Goals
And let’s be SMART about it. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
Telling SMART goals to a mentor (for example: “I will add 2 projects to my portfolio by February 18th”) adds an extra “A”: Accountable. As in, another human on this Earth now knows that this goal of yours exists, so there’s some added pressure for you to work toward it.
Once your SMART goals are achieved, be transparent with your mentor about the best next steps. It’s okay to have that mentor in your network without continuing the mentorship.
Actionable Next Step: Create at least one SMART goal (and even better, write it down) before any introductory meeting.
Though it may seem like a lot, these steps will be worth the work. According to many interviews with former and current mentors, a successful mentorship means that
- The mentee succeeded in reaching their goals.
- The mentorship kickstarted a lifelong professional connection.
- The pair could see themselves as friends.
Overall, a mentor is critical to any journey. It’s human to want to seek guidance from others’ past experiences. And there’s no shame in feeling a bit lost. Mentorship wouldn’t exist if “lost” were an acceptable form of living.
Having a mentor you can identify with gives you an opportunity to find light during dark times, so why not shine Brighter Together?