Why Getting a Mentor Is the Best Career Choice You Can Make
I’ve been teaching and doing different types of coaching for the several years now, and often find myself in discussions with men and women, both younger and older than me, who are constantly questioning their own decisions. They comfortably stay in what feels like safe work situations and are left unchallenged, unhappy and wanting to do something else, but unsure of how to get there or even get started. In my experience, there are so many career options to choose from that people end up getting paralyzed and making no decisions at all. Three years in a row I’ve been invited to give a talk for the students at the school where I did my Master’s degree about my untraditional journey from working in performing arts, returning to the classroom, and then back into work life again – this time within the field of Sports Science. After these talks I receive e-mails from students who are profoundly unsure about what to do with their life and how to move forward with their careers. While I feel for them and want to take them by the hand and guide them through how to get their first job, I can’t. They have to make their own decisions, experiences and mistakes – but I can mentor them, though.
Navigating through work life, especially when embarking on a new career can be tough, and the road to career fulfillment can be winding and packed with obstacles and challenges. How do you know which direction to take when you’re at a professional crossroads and everything is new and unfamiliar? A mentor may be just what you need to help you navigate your way through the endless choices, challenges and decisions to be made. Did you know that mentees or protégés receive more promotions, have higher incomes, more mobility and report higher career satisfaction than non-mentees (Ragins & Cotton, 1999)? These are just some of the many benefits of having someone to confide in who have experiences stretching beyond your own . A mentor works as a cheerleader, coach, counselor and friend – all in one person.
What’s The Deal With The “Gut Feeling”?
When faced with a challenge or a dilemma, you are often told to go with your gut feeling in order to make a decision. ‘What does my gut tell me?’, we ask ourselves, and expect to be presented with an immediate solution to our problems. We make decisions based off of our past experiences. Our past experiences create patterns for behavior and reaction to situations, and going with your gut feeling seems like pretty sound advice, but is it really valid? Perhaps not, because we are all biased and colored by our personality types, our moral compass, our past experiences and ultimately; our abilities to make decisions. Self-leadership is challenging when you can’t see the wood for the trees and your mind is racing with questions and thoughts. Is this the right time to get a new job? Should I accept this offer? What’s the next step for me in order to reach my goal? How do I become better at X, Y and Z?.
Your gut feeling may not provide answers to all of your questions because it’s a ‘”feeling” with no logical reasoning behind it. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t trust your intuition at all, but how will you distinguish between intuition and fear when you’re inexperienced in a professional situation, or is standing at a crossroads knowing that a decision you make now can have an impact on how your life will look in the next few years? In these types of situations a mentor can be of immense support, and help you see different points of views by offering their experienced perspectives – or expert opinions, if you will. If fear or lack of “know-how” is keeping you from progressing in life, your mentor is there to unlock your potential by applying just the right amount of pressure at the right time.
How Does Mentoring Work?
Let’s start by getting clear on what a mentor really is, and unpack the nature of the mentor and mentee relationship. First and foremost; a mentor is a trusted advisor who is ready to donate some of her or his expertise and time to help another person, the mentee, move forward in their career. If you are the mentee you are a little bit like a trainee; eager to learn and grow professionally or personally. The relationship, or mentorship, can come in many formal or informal packages. You and your mentor can make a clear strategy for you to reach specific goals and arrange regular office meetings, communicate through the occasional e-mail or call, or perhaps just meet for coffee now and then – there is no template for the perfect mentor-mentee relationship, and the frequency and nature of your relationship is very much up to you and your mentor to shape. Just make sure that you establish your expectations to each other in the very beginning in order to avoid any misunderstandings.
A mentor can have many functions, and you should be able to trust your mentor and be completely honest with her or him, but the relationship is mostly of a professional character. In other words, this is not the person you go to if you have issues with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or if you are unsure whether high-waisted jeans suits your body type or not.
Mentors are good listeners and experienced advisors, but they are not there to give you a blueprint or exact roadmap to follow. They will help you see things differently by being a “truth-sayer”, and by challenging your own thinking patterns. He or she will help you air your thoughts and quiet down your racing mind. While a mentor shouldn’t try to shape you into being exactly like them, they will use their own experiences to educate you and coach you to help you come up with your own solutions, and make your own decisions. To achieve this, the mentor will eloquently use data or emotion, depending on the situation, and make you feel fearless and empowered. Speaking of power – the mentor can act as a powerful ally in the professional world as well, and help you build a network by connecting you to other resourceful people that may be of great help to you. Who knows what could come of an introduction? Perhaps an exciting internship, a new friendship or simply your next dream job?
How To Choose A Mentor
I firmly believe that everybody should have a mentor of some sort when embarking on a new career. A person who is someone other than a parent, your partner or your “BFF”, who can challenge you on the things that you are not naturally that good at. The female mentees I meet with, seem to be much more measured and careful in their career choices than the men, and many of them are afraid to “dream big” for themselves altogether. If you find yourself in a position where you feel paralyzed, scared and incapable of moving forward in your career, I suggest the first thing you do is start thinking about who you’d like to have as your mentor. With the right mentor to back you up, you will receive guidance instead of fumbling in the dark alone with your thoughts and unfulfilled wishes.
You can have several mentors for different functions, of course, but there are some things you should be mindful of when choosing one. While I think it’s a good idea to choose someone you look up to; remember that we tend to gravitate towards people that resemble ourselves. When choosing a mentor, you should find someone who thinks and views things in a different way than you do. If you’re an intuitive thinker yourself, you might benefit from being mentored by someone who views things in an analytical or critical way. It is, however, an advantage to find someone who communicates in a similar way as you, since communication is an essential part of the mentor-mentee relationship. Your mentor should also be a lifelong learner, show mutual respect for you and while being a lateral thinker, a mentor should have the authority to be direct with you when needed. And perhaps, most importantly: They should be honest and want to see you thrive.
Now, I dare you to dream big and I dare you to, humbly, contact a person you would like to have as your mentor – or someones whose brain you’d just like to pick for an hour. Most people will be flattered by the request and more than happy to help you reach some milestones on your road to success.
Best Of Luck!
[Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections in the comments section]