You may have heard the advice that it’s good to have a coach or a mentor. But beyond that, it can be confusing. Why? What should I expect? Who should I approach?
To start with, let me explain the difference between a coaching and mentoring relationship. With a mentor, you’re looking to follow the path that someone else has successfully navigated, perhaps who can even open doors for you. A coach, on the other hand, focuses more on your specific goals, bringing out your best clarity and motivation from within yourself. Sometimes the two roles are combined to various degrees.
If you’re looking for a mentor, the keys are:
- You’re looking to follow a path that others have taken successfully.
- You have access to some people that can show you the way.
But given that each person’s journey on this planet is somewhat unique, you might argue that no one else has taken your specific path. If that’s really true, then go hook up with a coach who can help you to discover the new territory.
But for many people, there’s aspects of their life which are quite similar to others. Perhaps right now you’re just out of school, attempting to create a new career in the performing arts when times look bleak. Stated that way, there’s plenty of other people who have experienced the same thing, and some of them have succeeded despite the challenges.
Perhaps you’re also struggling to find the right balance between work, family, and spirituality. So look around: Are there any people who have the kind of balance that you’d like to have?
Perhaps you’d like to make a career change, into a new area in which you have less experience. Who has that experience, and has made the kind of jump that you’re looking for?
I’m sure you see, then, that the role of the mentor depends very much on where you are in your life right now. That will change in a few years, so perhaps you’ll be looking for mentoring in a different area then. So seek out someone different at that point.
How do you hook up with a mentor?
- Identify the specific area you’re struggling with. At this point, you don’t have to have any idea what the solution might look like.
- Look around for people who appear to have solved the problem in a way that you might like to copy. But you don’t have to assume that their solution is exactly right for you; that’s to be discovered.
- Ask other friends and people you trust if they have ideas for who might be a good mentor. But stay focused on your area of struggle; being a friend isn’t the primary purpose of being mentored.
- Ask a potential mentor for advice within the context of an ongoing relationship. They appreciate being recognized for their expertise, and usually feel indebted to help others who are struggling.
- Set up an agreement including how and how often you’d like to meet, the length of the “engagement”, how much you’d like to be challenged and pushed, confidentiality, and what (if anything) you might have to offer in return.
- Honor your agreement, and make sure to give your mentor thanks for the value they are giving to you.
Most mentor relationships aren’t paid, although there are some “barter” arrangements where expertise might be traded for expertise. And although you might well end up being a friend of your mentor for life, make sure to bring the formal mentoring relationship to a graceful and appreciative close when you’re feeling less need for the constant advice. It would be terrible for a valuable mentor to feel guilty about not having time to meet with you any more, especially after they’ve been of such great help for you.
Where would you need to be mentored at this point in your career?