Why a Mentor Matters (and How to Make the Most of One)Monday, June 20, 2011
What do Gwyneth Paltrow, Yves Saint Laurent, and Bob Dylan have in common? All of them got to the top of their fields with the support of a mentor. Madonna helped make Gwyneth an A-list movie star, Christian Dior taught YSL how to take couture to the next level, and Jerry Wexler helped Bob Dylan learn the ropes in the recording studio.
The right mentor can literally change your life. Research shows that mentors can provide insider information, friendship, encouragement, coaching, advocacy, inspiration, and serve as a role model to show you how to live out your dreams. If you love to write, try reaching out to a writer or an editor who you admire. Love clothes? See if you can form a connection with someone in the fashion biz. Whether you’re a scientist, a photographer, or an entrepreneur, a caring mentor can show you how to make the most of your career and live the life you always dreamed of having.
Once you’ve found your mentor, here are some tips to make the most of your mentoree experience:
- Remember that the best relationships blossom over time. Don’t expect that you’ll get all the support you need after one meeting. After all, it takes time to get to know someone, and your mentor must get to know you before he or she can understand the best way to offer support. Think of this as a lifelong connection that you are just starting to build. Start slowly and invest in nurturing the trust that facilitates a real bond.
- Come up with a regular schedule for meetings. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to drop the ball on your commitments if you don’t make them a priority. Having regular monthly or bi-monthly meetings with your mentor is the best way to ensure that you’ll get to know each other over time. Pick a date—say the first Monday or second Tuesday of every month—and stick to it. You’re more likely to follow through if you have a regular schedule with your mentor and find a way to incorporate her into your life
- Find fun and interesting things to do with your mentor. Just because you have a regular meeting time doesn’t mean that you have to have a regular meeting place. Getting together at the same Starbucks each time can feel stale. It might be more interesting to check out an art exhibit or see a concert together. The whole point is to form a connection with this person and expose yourself to new ideas. If you do fun and exciting activities together, you will learn more about yourself and about your mentor.
- Don’t make it all about you. Keep in mind that your mentor is volunteering her time to support you so be sure to show your appreciation! Listen when your mentor talks, and ask her questions about things in her life that she cares about even if they have nothing to do with you. Considerate gestures like birthday cards and homemade cookies can be very expressive without costing a lot. A relationship takes two people so be sure that you’re giving back instead of just taking.