I learned in graduate school that every good therapist has a therapist. Outside the mental health field, this translates to successful people have good mentors. I have been privileged to have several fantastic mentors. They provide encouragement and opportunity. I have no doubt that my career would be much more narrowly defined, and probably less fulfilling, if not for their guidance. They saw something in me that I hadn’t seen myself. Luckily, I had the good sense to trust them and pursue the multitude of detours they presented. With every deviation, I gained confidence and personal and professional enrichment. Seeking out mentors is such a natural process for me, so I was surprised to find out these relationships are fairly rare.
I researched ways to find mentors to better help others. However, the advice was contrary to my experience. In article upon article, I was instructed how to target specific individuals and was provided scripts to engage prospective mentors. The process described was overly formal and artificial. All of the experts I consulted reduced the mentoring relationship to a business transaction, unintentionally I’m sure. Their advice is certainly fitting for finding a consultant, or even an advisor, but mentors are more than that. They are emotionally invested in the successes and failures of those they mentor in a way that requires genuine engagement beyond the superficial business relationship.
Examining my own relationship to understand how to share my process, I discovered I have never asked anyone to be my mentor. My mentors have all been determined retroactively. They are a collection of supportive, caring individuals I’ve picked up along my journey – former colleagues, supervisors, and professors. I didn’t set out to make mentors of any of them, but my respect and admiration for these people elevates them beyond their titles. Thus, I have concluded, mentorship is a byproduct of the process, not the intended outcome target.
My advice to those looking for guidance is to form meaningful relationships with everyone around you. Effective mentor relationships take time to develop. Establishing a mentorship without a strong foundation isn’t likely to be exceptionally rewarding. Devote time to supporting and listening to others, and mentor relationships will naturally develop. Value others’ opinions and share successes when you capitalize on others’ suggestions. This will establish the roles of the mentor relationship. When you get good advice, take it. Those advisors will then be elevated to the status of mentor.