I can tell you that everything happens for a reason. That all great things in your career are the consequence of your actions. That you’re in control. However, none of these things are true. Through time I have made lots of great calls, tons of bad calls and lots that actually could have gone either way and was really up to luck.
One thing is for sure. Everything that mattered- everything that made a difference in my life- has been influenced by other people. Who are these mysterious”others”? You may call them “mentors”, if you would like. I didn’t call them that and neither did they because in most cases, it went more or less like this:
Two people just happened to be at the same place at the same time. One opens the door with a query or a problem, another tells a story or provides some guidance and, for any reason, it just magically sinks in and alters your perception. Just like that.
Since the topic comes up a lot nowadays, I thought I’d dispel some myths and shed a little light on the many mysteries of mentors.
1. Timing is everything.
Priceless advice that actually sinks in is normally a function of three associated ailments: you are needing, you open yourself up, and somebody says something that actually resonates with you. There isn’t a specific person in a specific place who’s going to say a specific phrase. Maybe you’re just drawn in some instinctive way, but it is usually situational; your need and willingness at the point in time that make it work.
2. They may not say what you want to hear.
In case you only need someone to reinforce your beliefs, then you are wasting both of your time. A mentor is not an echo chamber. In each case that mattered, what I heard wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. And it always amounted to plenty of effort on my part: sometimes personal, sometimes informative, occasionally work-related. I guess if I knew the answer and it was simple, I’d already have done it.
3. If you don’t ask, you won’t get replies.
Many either have to strong an ego or are afraid of being wrong; stop. First, if it is important for you not to stand in the spotlight forever, nobody usually cares if you get something wrong so stop making a big deal out of it. Just ask. People do not bite. Secondly, I have always lived my life more or less like an open book and it has never really burnt me yet. Privacy is overrated. Put yourself out there. People are usually happy to help with a small chat and advice.
4. Unbiased logic is everything.
Data is only evidence from a small data sample. Something that works for someone may not work for you- use logic to figure out what stories and anecdotes can actually inspire us to change our behaviour. Surface level “evidence” means nothing when it comes to the mind; high levels of logic and critical thinking must be used to determine what does and does not work.
5. No strings attached.
There were no life or executive coaches when I was in the market for guidance, so I’d better navigate this one carefully. Professionals that come highly recommended by credible sources to coach you on particular skills understand how to keep things on a professional level. Keep an eye out for conflicts of interest, personal entanglements, and those who strive out to make a buck off you.
6. Experience vs Ego.
There’s a great reason why most of us don’t get adequate advice from our pops and moms: the path they walked may be similar, but it was 20-30 years ago. Times have changed; things have changed. The voice of experience has always resonated is valuable but watch that it’s not Ego that’s driving these words. The less self, the better. Getting advice should be about respecting the giver; providing guidance should be all about compassion for the receiver.