My first mentor was Mister Rogers. That’s right. Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I did not want to be like Mister Rogers when I grew up. Instead, Fred Rogers taught me how to think about things in my world.
That’s my definition of “mentor”. A mentor is:
- A person who has knowledge and experience from which I want or need to learn, and
- they have a platform for sharing their information with me. i.e., books, videos, in-person meetings, etc.
Notice what’s not on that list: A person you can meet face to face.
Have you ever heard someone talk about meeting their mentor for coffee and wished you had a mentor, too? I know I sure have. I wondered, how did they make that happen? Why don’t I have a mentor?
I imagined weekly breakfast meetings where my mentor would share their wisdom and special insights over black coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. My imaginary mentor gave me all the information I needed to succeed in life and business.
What a fantasy!
I wouldn’t know how to even begin the search for someone with that kind of time or interest in my success. No one is going to show up and adopt me.
Then I remembered Mister Rogers. He showed up to talk with me most afternoons.
So, how can someone be your mentor if you’ve never met them? Well, Mr. Rogers mentored me, and nowadays it’s easier than ever to find someone who inspires you.
We live in the age of the internet. Inspiring people are everywhere.
Granted, there is something extra special about getting 1-on-1 attention. But, being the center of attention only feeds my ego. Learning from a mentor is a practice of humility and willingness to take direction.
I followed this process to find mentors who could show me the way to do life.
Now, I have what I need and want.
Here are some of the ways mentorship has changed my life:
- I look forward to going to work everyday. I didn’t always feel that way.
- I help people in a sincere and honest way. I used to feel resentful of helping others.
- I eat as much as I want. I lost 65 pounds 13 years ago and I’ve kept it off.
- I don’t worry about money. Worrying about money used to take up most of my time.
- I take time off and travel whenever and wherever I want. I didn’t always have this lifestyle option.
- I have positive relationships with my adult children. This wasn’t always true.
- I have friendships with women who are smart, funny, and, trustworthy, and reliable. I used to have no friendships with women.
- I sleep well. I used to wake up in the middle of the night.
I want to tell you how I found the mentors I needed so you can do it, too.
Step 1. Drop the baggage.
My first step to finding a mentor was letting go of the idea that a single person was going to meet all of my mentorship needs. Is the person you lean on for financial advice the same person you look to for spiritual advice? Probably not..
Make a list of the areas in your life where you want guidance. These are your available openings for mentors.
Here’s what part of my list looks like:
- Management of my business
- Spiritual guidance
- Being a better salesperson
- Being a better friend
- Aging gracefully
- Physical fitness
- Marriage skills
- Achieving goals
- Dog training
For me, these openings have mostly been filled. Make your own list and then move to step 2 to begin cultivating your group of mentors.
Step 2. Look for diamonds in your own backyard.
Before you look to people you don’t know, start with what you’ve already got. Who are the diamonds in your own backyard? Take stock of the people you already know. Are there acquaintances you admire who inspire you with their experience?
Great! Knowing them personally is a bonus, not a necessity. But, if you do know them and you want to cultivate an in-person mentor, develop these relationships:
- Think about their specific actions which inspire you. What is it you want to learn?
- Reach out to them by phone or email. If they are someone you see regularly, then opt for a face-to-face conversation.
- Don’t be cool. Tell them about your respect for how they do XYZ.
- Ask them how they learned to do XYZ.
Step 3. Claim your mentors.
Once you’ve chosen the person you want to learn from, will you bend down on one knee to ask, “Will you be my mentor?”
Big surprise… that’s not how it works. Believe it or not, nobody has time for that. Mentors are claimed.
I claim Mister Rogers.
You see, I don’t need permission. You don’t need permission either. Go ahead and try it.
There are people you already watch and follow closely because you like their ideas and you want to know more. They are a mix of people you see face-to-face and people you admire from afar.
Leaders in your community, a successful business owner, or a leader in your faith congregation…
Whose books are you reading? Whose podcasts are you listening to?
Step 4. Once you’ve claimed a mentor, don’t be a leech
DO NOT start your relationship with your mentor by asking them for coffee so you can “pick their brain”–especially if they are a consultant or an advisor as part of their career.
Instead, think about how you can be of value to that person you respect. Start by expressing your appreciation for the example they provide. You can do this whether or not you know your mentor personally.
When a person is approached with gratitude and humility, then they are more likely to respond.
People in leadership positions generally like to be of help. They are also good at seeing the takers from a mile away.
Step 5. Be a mentor
Modern mentorship can be a two-way street. Just ask anyone in a teaching position. The best teachers often point out the learning they gain from their students. As an employer and as the Director of Instruction at my company, I am always learning from my coworkers and from our clients.
It’s unpredictable. I never know what I’m going to learn.
But, these surprise lessons or nuggets of wisdom show up so often, that I’ve started to expect a new revelation around every corner!
You can make this magic happen, too. If you’re not already a mentor, here’s how to start:
- Take stock of your strengths and skills. You have to recognize the insights and experience you have to offer. This is an important step that you can’t skip.
- Interact with people. This works like a charm.
- Be available when people need your help. It’s amazing how people will show up when you have your radar up. (I’m not talking about helping people move their furniture.)
- Find a platform where you can be found by people who need your insight. This could be anything from a local interest group to publishing your own written/audio/visual content online to public speaking.
What I’ve learned
Mentorship has changed my life. Most of the in-person mentors in my life did not just show up out of the blue. I had to recognize their value in my life first. I had to make time for them and take a stance of curiosity.
Of all of the mentors I’ve claimed, most of them don’t even know I exist. I’ve claimed them because I decided they had something important to offer me. I wanted to learn from them.
Ultimately, I’ve had to be willing to take direction from others. This is hard to do if I already know everything. So, I try not to be such a know-it-all. And, so far, it has worked.
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