Ever late to the game, this is my entry to the Mentorship Blog Round Table I announced last week. The round-up will be posted on Wednesday, March 3.
I contemplated calling this post something in typical Gen Y fashion, like “Personal Board of Advisors” but I’m not sure that’s going to get your head out of the overly formal idea of mentorship that we have. I think we need to open our minds to a new kind of mentorship.
Ever heard the expression “it take a village to raise a child”? Well, I’m fond of my own little saying: “It takes a village to raise a Holly.” I do have a personal board of advisors – not in the sense that I run everything past everyone of them, but most important decisions are run past a handful of them, while others are called on for technical guidance in their field of expertise. And there are quite a few of them. A village you might say.
The Criteria is Simple, but Not Easy
My criteria for mentors is rather loose, but at the same time, very difficult to achieve. You don’t have to have credentials or references… you don’t even have to be older than me or more senior than I am. But you do have to have something very special and rare.
The people I call my mentors have something I want.
The formal definition of mentor is “a trusted counselor or guide.” All of my mentors fit this definition, but that extra criteria of having something I want is critical. That’s why I find it hard to believe when I hear my peers say they don’t want or need mentors. I learned a long time ago that it was much easier to ask someone who already knew how to do something than to try to learn to do it all by myself. I also learned long ago that it’s easier to know where my weaknesses are so that I can find a way to strengthen them.
Spotting People Who Have What I Want
I’m not usually on the hunt for them. I like to think one of my strengths is my ability to observe. I watch people. I watch what they do, not necessarily what they say. Trying to find mentors based on accolades, awards, job titles, and their swagger has always let me down. It’s usually the people I would least expect that have what I want.
“Have what I want” can range from career experience to industry expertise, from health to general attitude about life, even fashion sense. I’m not sure that most of my mentors even know they are my mentors. I never ask them to sign up. I just ask them to get coffee or if I could call or email them sometime. If I can pick their brain or if they’d like to have lunch. Then I go into sponge mode and just try to soak it all up.
The interesting thing about picking mentors this way is that you don’t always learn what you think you’ll learn. My corporate career mentor, for example, taught me how to make the leap to owning my own business. When you target people based on how happy they are with their career, you learn how to be happy – not necessarily how to follow their career path. And when you pick someone to be your mentor because they ooze serenity and peace, somehow or other you learn how to be angry at the right times.
When A Mentor Doesn’t Work Out
It’s not like I’ve got a divining rod and I sort of blithely go through life with successful mentor after successful mentor. I’ve had my share of individuals who never called me back, clearly used me to get something, and others still who didn’t work out for one reason or another. Some of my mentors I’ve outgrown, realizing that they don’t have anything I would ever want. Sadder still, I’ve had mentors who had everything I wanted in life, and I watched them give it up to walk a dark and lonely path I pray I never follow them down.
I move on. I keep searching. And I learn, ultimately, from those people more about what I do and do not want from life.
Meet Holly’s Village, er… Board of Advisors
And now, allow me to introduce you to my mentors and personal board of advisors.
I have two, yes two, therapists. One is a talking therapist for general counseling needs, and the other is specially trained and she helps me get over my totally irrational fear of flying. I pay them to be on the board. Having been in or around some form of therapy since I was 14, I find that having a really good counselor around is good for me. Both my therapists are people I respect and believe I would have a friendly relationship with, outside the laws of professional relationships yada yada legal stuff.
I have a 12-step program sponsor. She essentially acts as my sounding board for any “great” idea I might have or any major life decisions.
I have lots of these so-called great ideas, and she helps bring me back from the brink of some majorly stupid decisions. And, other times, she’s there to guide back to sanity after I go ahead with said stupid decisions. She is responsible for walking me through the 12 steps of the program, and teaching me how she has gotten and stayed sober. She also sort of acts as a spiritual advisor of sorts. Not in a sense that she tells me what to believe, but more like how to go about finding it.
I had a corporate mentor, but now that I’m not in the corporate world, I guess she’s more of a business mentor. I also have a marketing mentor. Both of these mentors were my bosses at the job I recently left. I’m grateful to have developed the kind of relationship with them that is bigger than employment. Both of these mentors have the kind of field experience in marketing I hope to have one day, and I recognize in them how much I have to learn about traditional marketing in order to run a successful digital marketing agency.
I have a social media mentor, who has encouraged and supported me to do things like start a local chapter of Social Media Club, take on freelance work, and found my own business. He has constantly thrown me into the spotlight (and the trenches, for that matter!) time and time again, and shares openly and freely of his knowledge. I’m proud to say he “raised me right” in social media, passing on to me an intense love for the industry and a desire to help others “get it.”
I have a life coach. While I don’t use her as intensely or regularly as I have in the past, she’s someone who I know is only a phone call away when I’m faced with critical life decisions that don’t necessarily fall to my therapists, sponsor, or other mentors. She’s more like a third party who is more interested in finding out what jives with my life path than any one decision over another.
Those are my primary mentors, the ones who have really stood the test of time. I also have trusted advisors in fashion, spirituality and relationships. Members of my family, friends, business partner, and boyfriend often times resemble mentors to me. It’s difficult to say where that line starts and stops between love, friendship and a desire to teach and be taught.
I’ll leave you with this: In the end, the best mentors are the ones who support and teach you right out of from underneath of them.