The Mentor Challenge

by Julia on July 31st, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about mentorship lately. I haven’t written about it because most of what I’ve been thinking boils down to this: I want it, and I don’t really have it, and I’m not sure how to get it. And that doesn’t make for a very scintillating blog post.

There’s tons of research showing the importance of mentors, in everything from sports to legal careers to the military. I’ve seen its value in my own life–when I’m focused and jazzed about a project there is usually someone in the wings inspiring me and guiding me and cheering me on.

Mentors are valuable in many areas of life, but what I seek right now is career mentoring. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t have any professional mentors at all. I have quite a few “silent mentors”–people I admire who I watch and try to learn from. But some of them don’t know I exist, and none of them know I am spying on them. I also have friends who I talk shop with–we hash things out and learn from each other. This is more of a peer relationship, though.

What I’d really like to do is populate my High Council of Jedi Knights, to borrow a term from Pam Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation. I want wise and powerful mentors who know exactly what I need and the best ways for me to learn it. I want them to care about me and be deeply invested in my success. I want them have noble lives as well as laudable careers. I recognize that maybe I am being a bit unrealistic here. But I do have a couple of people in mind whom I admire. I have questions that I’d like to ask them.

There’s plenty of smart advice out there about how to be a good mentee. (Here’s some, and here’s more.) I think I’ll do pretty well. The hard part, of course, is getting up the gumption to ask in the first place, which is where the mentor challenge comes in.

I’m committing, here and now, to ask at least one person to mentor me before August is over. And while I’m at it, I will offer to mentor someone else too, because mentorship is a two-way street. If you’ve also been yearning for a little more guidance, maybe you will decide to take the challenge with me.

6 Comments
  1. Chris permalink

    I agree – mentors are a great thing. Seems like some careers have more mentorship built in than others — and when it’s not built in, I guess you have to go find it. Does sound like it would take some gumption though…let us know how you do.

  2. Good point, Chris. I wonder why some careers do have a more established culture of mentorship. The ones that immediately come to mind (law, military, crafts/trades, academia) are ancient, traditional professions. Maybe it takes a while to build that culture.

  3. Chris permalink

    Hmmm…that’s a cool point.
    I wonder what mentorship is like for businesspeople? (not being one myself)

  4. Nice post and the thought of one’s own personal “high council” is really comforting.

    In the past few years I’ve gathered a few of my own Jedi Knights and it’s so great to have people who’ve been-there-done-that and are more than happy to share the triumphs. What’s even been more valuable is that many have also shared their pitfalls, and divulged their mistakes. Hearing their lessons learned, their regrets, and the changes they’ve made as a result has been eye opening. First because I’ve been so quick to put these people up on pedestals of perfection that it’s hard for me to envision that these people make mistakes at all. To learn about their perspective they’ve gained along the way is both comforting and galvanizing. Second to see how others grapple with making mistakes, letting things go and making amends while on their way opens up more options in my own field of view than I’d originally imagined.

    As a woman and entrepreneur I’ve made more than my fair share of life compromises and having older women in my tribe to weigh in on their way of making it through the world has been a godsend. The result is this I make a lot of my business decisions with confidence, in many ways it’s like they’re always with me, poised on my shoulder rooting me on and helping me find my way.

    Having these three women (and one guy) in my life is an amazing motivator – I want to succeed not just for myself – but to show them that they were right for having invested in me and to test our combined theories on which way to proceed.

    As a mentor myself – I adore watching my staff and students grow, learn and gain confidence in what they do. My goal is not to see them envision “what would Cricket do” but for them to develop confidence in “what would I do…what’s right for me”. It can feel like a lot of responsibility to share an opinion about what someone else might do and I hope I do an OK job with that power. The reward of seeing the relationship grow and the individual blossom has been so satisfying. I hope that others see the power of that connection and lend a hand when presented with the opportunity.

  5. Good points Cricket! Especially the part about learning from others’ mistakes and realizing that even your idols goof up sometimes. This is one I need to remember.

    Successful women entrepreneurs like you are an inspiration. Keep on trailblazin’!

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