Most of us, no matter what life phase we are in, would love to have a mentor.
There is something inside of us that longs for someone who is older, wiser, and has already experienced whatever our current ambitions might be. It could be a spiritual mentor, someone who has suffered enough storms that their faith is deep and their foundation firm, and we desire to learn from them. It could be a professional mentor, someone who has held a career within a field we hope to also find success in. It could be a mentor of a specific situation—recovering from death of a loved one, surviving cancer, surviving college or a breakup. Deep down, we all want to learn from someone else who has experience more life than us with notable success.
I find myself having a lot of conversations about this with college students. Primarily, they want a professional mentor. They have huge career ambitions and want someone who’s already accomplished them all, who would teach them, guide them, and give them the advice and connections they’ll need to follow the same path. But the question I am always asked is how.
How do I find a mentor?
1. Be observant.
Look around you. Who do you know that is 5, 10, 20, 30 years ahead of you? What parts of their lives would you want to emulate? Ask those people out to coffee– just spend time with them. Get to know them better. Ask them questions about their life, their journey, decisions they’ve made, risks they’ve taken. Become friends.
If you can’t identify someone you know who has a similar career to your aspirations– that’s okay! Anyone with a decade or more of leadership in any industry has a lot of knowledge you can glean from.
Don’t know anyone at all who is older and you’d want to emulate? Then reposition yourself to meet some new folks. Get involved at a multi-generational church, join a professional society, get out of your peer bubble.
2. Don’t put it all on one person.
This is the most frequent mistake I see. We expect to find one person to be our mentor. But there probably isn’t anyone in this world that you want to emulate on all fronts. You may really admire one woman’s career, but you may not love the way her marriage looks. Or you may really respect another woman’s faith walk, but she’s been out of the workforce for three decades, and while she can teach you a lot about being a stay at home mom and wife, you’re not even close that phase of life yet.
Find at least two or three people who you would like to glean from in different life areas. This is a continual process. Just as you will transition life phases, you’ll need to look for other mentors in other life areas.
3. Don’t ask “Will you be my mentor?”
I’ve also heard a lot of awkward stories when a younger person asks, “Will you be my mentor?” of someone they have barely spent any time with. Don’t be that guy. Not only should you not “cold ask” someone to be your mentor, but I actually don’t think you should do it all.
Asking someone such a formal question feels strange and restrictive to me. It puts too much pressure on them and automatically makes them feel like you have certain expectations and things you want to get from them.
Forget about having a label so you introduce them as your “mentor” and just keep pursuing them. Continue to ask them out to coffee, lunch, spend time with them. If they want to mentor you, they will take you under their wing. And they may never call themselves your mentor, but rather your friend. Isn’t that even better?
4. Mentor someone else.
Finally, if you want a mentor– become a mentor. No matter what age or stage of your life you’re in, there is always someone younger and less experienced than you. Always. Be the older, wiser friend that you want to someone else.
If you’re a college freshman, take a high schooler under your wing. A college senior, take a college freshman. A young alumni, a college student. You get the idea.
Again, don’t formalize it. Don’t tell them you’re being their mentor. Just be their friend and confidant. Offer advice when asked. Offer thoughts or stories that you think relate to their situation. Be a friend.
Trust me, you’ll learn more from them than they will from you!