A few good mentors

Emerging into your professional self is a lot of work. The through line isn’t apparent, and in that moment, it appears as if you’re just muddling along. But, you don’t have to muddle alone.

At the June Emerging Leaders Network Lunch  on mentoring, a friend who was in my cohort at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Institute identified me as one of her mentors. (I would have self-identified her as a peer with a certain skill-set.) Throughout our conversation about mentors and mentoring, it was clear that many of us simultaneously occupy both roles. 

In our jobs and as volunteers, we are often called on to help others. But at the same time we are also finding our way, developing and honing skills, and building our networks. This dynamic is one reason I find mentors and peer networks so appealing.

Finding Your Mentors

Finding mentors is like dating. You won’t click with everyone. And like dating, you’re looking for certain things pending on your needs at that time. What I need now is different than it was a few years ago.  Some of my mentors are still a really good fit; others offered wonderful advice for that stage in my life. Regardless of your stage, the first hurdle is setting up the informational interview.

The last time I was in transition, I was really nervous about scheduling informational interviews. What were the expectations? Did they think I was looking for a job? Did they really want to talk to me? But I soon realized that they had been in my shoes more than once, and were happy to share their story, give me good insights, and connect me to other resources. 

These same anxieties beforehand and the appreciation of these conversations afterwards resonated amongst others in the room. But you have to reach out and ask.

Paying it Forward

During our discussion, a few folks stated they’ve often refrained from reaching out because they’d feel guilty for taking up another person’s time for their benefit. In response, one person mentioned that since she has gone on so many informational interviews, she’ll accept almost any request from others to meet because she owes the universe and wants to pay it back. And I agree. If someone is interested in what I’m doing, how I got where I am, or my opinion on something, I’m happy to chat. And that’s not just because I like the sound of my own voice. Because others were generous with me.

As I work with the League of Women Voters on the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (LOTT) program, I think about what I wish I had known when I was fresh out of college. What I wish I had known when I was in jobs I hated. And, what I held onto from enriching experiences. I borrow from all of this–the good and bad–as well as from the guidance of those who helped me. Hopefully this program will help others find their path and emerge as strong leaders. 

For those who prefer a more organic approach, I suggest just jumping in. Start talking to people in your own network or through social media, such as Twitter or LinkedIn. 

I’m always on the lookout for people who offer a fresh perspective or insight into how I can be more effective. As a good friend reminds me, you should always be cultivating your relationships, so if you need your network it’s strong. Despite the busyness of each day, I try to remember to get lunch or just call to check in with people.

Please, share your thoughts on mentorship. What are your experiences with mentoring (mentor or mentee)? Finding a mentor? What are your goals or needs in pursuing a mentor relationship?

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