By Nicole Unice
We were going on a hike that morning, and as we drove up the mountain, a park ranger flagged us down. “Some fires at the top,” she told us, and then detailed out the best way to enjoy our hike that morning. As we drove away, I was so thankful for her gentle guidance and direction that made our morning much better. (I just stole this pic from the Internet. It has very little to do with the actual story but don’t you just love that grandma in her uniform??)
A good mentor is like an awesome park ranger to your life. They point out truth, they explain different paths, they tell you what poisonous creatures to watch out for. They gently offer suggestions that make your journey better. Especially in our 20s and 30s, a good mentor can bring clarity and encouragement just when we need it. But how do you find one? Here’s some tips that might help:
#1: YOU AIN’T IN COLLEGE ANYMORE (UNLESS YOU ARE…)
College is an awesome time to have a mentor. Some of my favorite young leaders have clearly been discipled in college. They had an older guy or girl who gave them intentional time every single week. They had one-on-one time. They had small group time. They had large group time. They had social justice time. They had bowling at midnight time. They had Waffle House time. They had camping time. The point? THEY HAD TIME. And unfortunately, homey, life don’t work like college.
I cannot tell you how many times some young whipper-snapper with the best of intentions has asked me to be their mentor, to “pour into” them. What I want to say is, “hey little lady, I don’t have a whole lot to ‘pour’ and what exactly are you asking for?” My “needy” alert is pretty high, so if a woman I hardly know from Eve asks me to be her mentor, my brain immediately expects that this woman is looking for me to be her best buddy, three times a week, for the next three (or 13…) years. Real life isn’t like college, so ask yourself what exactly you are looking for right now.
Do you need a friend? Do you need advice? Do you need a counselor?
Once you figure out what you really want when you say “I want a mentor” you can then ask yourself, is that a reasonable ask? Another way to evaluate if it’s reasonable is to imagine someone asking you to be their mentor. What would you want them to say/do/ask?
#2: GET SPECIFIC
Once you know what you really need, you can take some next steps. Let’s suppose you would love someone older to help you understand some next steps for your career. Your pastor might not be the best mentor unless you are going into ministry! Take a look at the community around you and find some people you admire (maybe 3 or 4) who might meet those needs.
#3: START SMALL
Next, DO NOT ask those people to be your mentor, especially if you don’t know them, and ESPECIALLY if you don’t know them AT ALL. Commitment is scary for everyone. If you wouldn’t want some guy or girl walking up to you and asking you to be their boy/girlfriend without even one date, so you can understand that having a “title” thrown at you with no relationship at all is daunting. And it’s not just about the mentor, either, this is about YOU finding the best fit. Here’s the deal: even that person that you think would be PERFECT for you might suck at being mentor. They might be too busy for you. They might be pompous. They might be utterly boring. They might give crappy advice. So before you throw that big mentor word around, start small. A better place to begin is with one conversation. It might be something like this, “Hey, Suzy, I really admire the work you do and I’m very interested in the marketing field. Would it be possible to meet sometime so I could hear a little more about your story?”
#4: MAKE IT EASY
A great mentor is probably a person who’s doing pretty well at life, so they are busy. DO NOT make it hard for them to be with you. Offer to bring lunch to their office. Offer to meet them at the coffee shop that’s convenient for them even when it’s inconvenient for you. Be flexible. Don’t cancel. Be early. Find the table so they don’t have to. Text them that morning to make sure it’s still a good day for them. Treat them with the honor that represents the respect you have for them (after all, you wanted them to be your mentor, right?)
#5: COME PREPARED
Your job is to be prepared. This goes back to the “what is it that you really want?” If you want to meet with someone because you want to exploit their connections or use their influence or date their daughter, they are going to be able to tell. People have awesome BS meters and nobody likes to be used, especially great leaders. If those connections are going to be made, it will be because the mentor wants to make them (and a good mentor will want to make them, if it’s the right thing for you). So be patient. Don’t work that angle in a first meeting. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to learn. Ask the person their story. Ask specific questions, and follow-up questions. Have them written down. DO NOT ask them for things that they can’t immediately give you–in other words, do not make work for them. If they want to make a connection or email you a resource or bring you a book, they will offer to do that. In an initial meeting, you want this person to leave feeling like you were engaged with who they were, not what you wanted out of them.
#6: SAY THANKS
Option A: Let’s say it was awesome. Let’s say the chemistry was there, and they laughed (a good sign!) Let’s say that when you asked your specific questions, they also asked you questions (another good sign!)
Now send them a thank you email or note. Give specific gleanings on what you learned from their story. And end it with “I know your schedule is full, and I am really thankful for your time!” See if they email you back. If yes, then a relationship has formed, and you have the green light to perhaps ask them to lunch (and repeat the other steps) again. If they don’t, then give it some time, or move on to the next person you can meet with.
Option B: Let’s say it sucked. The person talked nonstop about him or herself and never asked you a question. When you did tell her a little bit about yourself, she didn’t seek to understand, but just gave you pat advice. Or perhaps he assumed some things about you that weren’t true. Or he was on the phone the whole time answering messages and just didn’t have the bandwidth to engage. So what do you do? You send him a thank you note, and then you send ME a thank you note for warning you to not get into a relationship too quickly!
Like any relationship, the best mentorships develop organically. They are formed because of a genuine affection and mutual admiration for one another. Often, mentors get as much (or more!) out of the mentoring relationship. Some of my best friendships started as mentorships, both to me and from me. You may find that through life, different people are able to provide for different needs–that’s the great thing about relationships. So leave your heart & mind open to the possibilities, ask yourself the hard questions about what you really want, and be intentional with your next steps. It’s absolutely worth the work!