The Importance of Mentors and How to Find the Right One

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What’s the importance of mentors for your life and career? How can you find a mentor that will push you toward success?

A mentor is someone who guides you through your career, academics, or life. They are likely people who have gone through the same experiences as you, which puts them in the optimal position to offer advice and support.

Below we’ll go through the importance of mentors, how to find one, and what you can do to show your gratitude for their help.

Why Are Mentors Important?

Even if you think you have it all figured out, it helps to have someone you can talk to who has been through similar life experiences. 

Let’s look at the importance of mentors for people with ambitious goals.

Mentors Provide a Path to Success

Mentors are experienced professionals who are willing to support your career development. According to Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazi, they can provide many kinds of assistance, including:

  • Advice on the experience and skills you’ll need to advance your career. If your mentor works in the same field as you, they can give industry-specific tips. If not, they can still give you general advice and guidance—for example, about the transferable skills that you’ll need to progress in any field.
  • Specific help with one of the goals. For example, if one of your goals is to improve your selling skills, and your mentor is a salesperson, they could tutor you.
  • Insider information on the latest developments in their industry. For example, they can tell you if it’s booming at the moment and thus a good field to move into.
  • Introductions to useful contacts in their network. For instance, if you’re searching for a job, they can introduce you to any recruiters that they know. 
  • Information about job openings at their company. If they’re influential, they may put in a good word for you with the hiring manager.
  • Emotional support if things go wrong. Your mentor will probably have faced various personal and professional struggles over the years, meaning they’ll be able to empathize and offer support if you face issues yourself. 
  • Inspiration. Knowing this successful person may inspire you to chase success yourself.

Mentors Act as a Role Models

The Motivation Myth by Jeff Haden also emphasizes the importance of mentors by showing how they act as role models for you to emulate. Study how they achieved what you’re after, and determine the steps they took along the way.

Haden recommends using a mentor because they won’t cut you any slack. A mentor will simply explain what it takes to succeed and expect you to do it. The trick is to channel their experience and techniques. Once you’ve identified a person to emulate, you don’t even have to meet them in real life—just pick someone whose path you want to mirror, and do what they did without taking shortcuts. It’s not actually the person themself that you need but the program for success that they used.

Haden says to start by picking one thing your mentor does that would point you toward your goal, then do it even if it seems to go against your normal behavior. If they’re a novelist, perhaps they wake up hours before you do to write while everyone else is asleep. If they’re a top-ranked public speaker, maybe they do vocal warmups every morning as part of their exercise routine. Whatever activity you select will stretch you in ways you aren’t accustomed to and will grow your skills in ways you might not have expected.

Mentors Help You Develop a Growth Mindset

In The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath also explain a mentor’s importance: they help you go from having a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. This is helpful for people who have self-doubt about achieving their goals and stepping outside their comfort zone. The process of stepping outside of your comfort zone and risking failure leads to what psychologists call “self-insight”: an understanding of your values, abilities, goals, and motivations. 

When you put yourself in risky situations, either you will succeed or you will fail. While success is certainly a reason to celebrate, keep in mind that failures—and the valuable learning opportunities they offer—should be celebrated as well. 

Self-insight is a great reward for taking on new challenges, but actually pushing yourself into situations that come with a risk of failure can be very difficult, especially in the current global trend of people holding themselves to impossibly high standards of perfection. To break out of this mindset, it’s helpful to seek out a mentor who can support you through the process of leaving your comfort zone and exposing yourself to the possibility of failure. 

A mentor’s job is to push you into situations that will spark your self-insight, providing the type of productive pressure that helps coax out your best self. The Heaths note that great mentors do four key things: Set high expectations, express confidence in you, provide direction, and assure support. This formula sends the message, “I have high expectations, but I know you can reach them. I will present new challenges to you, and I will have your back if you fail.” 

How the Mentorship Formula Cultivates a Growth Mindset

You can experience more instances of self-insight if mentors help you change the way you think about risk and failure. In Mindset, Carol S. Dweck explains that people typically have one of two mindsets:

  • Fixed mindset: The mindset that intelligence, ability, or talent can’t be learned or improved. People with this mindset avoid asking for help and have an intense fear of failure because they feel it defines them and exposes the limits of their abilities.
  • Growth mindset: The mindset that intelligence, ability, or talent can be trained or developed over time. People with this mindset are comfortable asking for help when they need it and overcome failure relatively easily because they see it as an opportunity to better understand themselves and grow their abilities. 

Mentors want to help you cultivate a growth mindset. The Heaths’ four-part formula helps touch on several aspects of guiding you into this mindset:

  • High expectations and confidence: By being demanding and reassuring, mentors help you become more comfortable with challenging goals, but bolster your confidence in your ability to stretch yourself.
  • Direction: By giving you a specific high-challenge project, mentors prevent you from defaulting to a project that seems easier or carries a lower risk of failure. 
  • Support: A mentor’s support expresses to you that it’s okay to ask for help—you don’t need to fear what a mentor thinks of you if you fail or can’t accomplish the goal alone. 

How to Find a Mentor

If you found someone who you think would make a good mentor, how do you get them to agree to help you? It’s not productive to stalk the person you want to emulate and badger them for suggestions.

Instead, The Motivation Myth suggests joining a group such as a club of experienced hobbyists or a professional organization. Being in such an atmosphere will put you in touch with many people whose personal experiences you can draw from. When joining a group, though, it’s important not to make a nuisance of yourself and drive away the people you’d like to learn from. Instead, you must diligently take steps to transition from an outsider to an insider. You can do this by:

  1. Showing up
  2. Being humble
  3. Volunteering for tasks
  4. Helping other newcomers fit in

Once you’ve made yourself part of a community full of people working toward the same goal as yours, you’ll not only have access to professionals to learn from, but you’ll also have found an invaluable network of support who can also help motivate you along your way.

Ask Well-Thought-Out Questions

Having a mentor is critical for career progression. A mentorship connection has to develop naturally. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says that mentors select mentees based on performance and potential. Instead of trying to find a mentor who will lead them toward success, you should excel first, get noticed, then allow an organic mentor relationship to develop.

It’s not, “Get a mentor and you’ll excel.” It’s, “Excel and you’ll get a mentor.”

To find and develop a mentor relationship, you should know that approaching someone and asking, “Will you be my mentor?” does not work. But approaching someone with a well-thought-out inquiry could spark a discussion and a relationship. 

For example, Sandberg often gets vague, general questions like, “What’s it like working at Facebook?” This leads nowhere. But when she was approached and asked to discuss a nonprofit that offered college counseling to low-income students—a topic she cared about deeply—she was willing to help.

Take every opportunity to learn from someone you admire. Grab a moment after a meeting to ask for advice. Make it casual and quick, then follow up as an opportunity to ask for more guidance. Don’t get stuck on the “mentor” label. It’s the relationship that’s important, not the formality of the setup. A mentor relationship can simply be decision-making help from someone investing time in you. Recognize and appreciate what this person is doing. 

Give Back to Your Mentor

All professional relationships must be reciprocal—including mentor-mentee relationships. Here are three things Never Eat Alone states you could do to “give back” to your mentor to prevent your connection from becoming one-sided:

  1. Loyalty. Let your mentor know that if they ever need your support—for example, political support if they run for office, or emotional support during a crisis—you’ll have their back. Follow up on your word, unless you want to gain a reputation for making promises that you don’t keep. 
  2. Hard work. If your mentor is someone from your workplace (for example, your manager), the best thing you can offer them is high-quality work that produces results for your company.
  3. Something material. For example, you could send your mentor a thank-you gift each time they help you. Alternatively, you could donate to a cause that they’re passionate about or a nonprofit they work with.

Wrapping Up

Mentorship is great for people trying to make it big in the world. Through mentors, you can make great connections that are vital for your career. As long as you put the work in and show mentors appreciation for their support, the relationship with your mentor will pay off in no time.

What are other reasons that show the importance of mentors? Let us know in the comments below!

The Importance of Mentors and How to Find the Right One

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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