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As your financial and professional lives become more complex, going it alone will only get you so far.
We all need advice, encouragement and a sounding board from time to time. Leaning on family and friends can help, but it can be difficult for loved ones to give you objective advice.
That’s why you need a mentor. Or mentors.
You can have a career mentor. A money mentor. A life mentor. A spiritual mentor. A relationship mentor. A business mentor. Basically, any area of your life in which you need guidance or accountability, there’s a mentor for that.
These relationships don’t appear out of thin air. You need to seek out a mentor and put in the work to see results.
FINDING A MENTOR
Approaching someone and asking “Will you be my mentor?” feels a little awkward. But mentorship doesn’t need to be that formal.
“I think the most valuable mentorships are the ones that arrive more organically,” says Alison Green, creator of Ask a Manager, a work advice website.
Find someone you connect with, whether at work, in your social circle or in your spiritual community, and start having deeper conversations. Ask for their perspective and use them as a sounding board.
That person may be two decades your senior, or they may be close to your age. In some cases, a mentor closer in age can better relate to your experiences at the workplace, in relationships and in life, Green says. It’s still fresh for them.
There are situations where a structured, formal mentorship is the way to go. If you’re trying to start a business, for example, you need someone who sees your vision and has the expertise to help you execute it.
That person may not already exist in your orbit. But you can find them through organizations like Score, a national volunteer organization that offers free business mentorship.
Whether you want to excel as a manager, save for retirement or become more involved with your house of worship, defining your goal can help narrow your mentor search, says Bridget Weston, CEO of Score.
“Try to understand your goals and what you want out of a mentor relationship,” Weston says. “Then you can approach them and say, ‘This is what I’m looking for. Does this work for you?’”
MAKING IT WORK
A mentorship is a relationship, and even the easiest relationships require time, energy and focus. You also need to be open and vulnerable.
— DON’T HOLD BACK: Confessing your fears and doubts won’t happen on day one, meeting one. But as the mentorship grows, try to open up.
“You have to gel with your mentor in order to make the most of that relationship,” Weston says. “If you’re holding back or not being 100% authentic, you’re not going to get the most out of it.”
If you don’t feel comfortable doing so after a few sessions, consider finding a different mentor, says Jennifer Jones, founder of Cosmopolitan Plated, a culinary company in Arlington, Virginia , that offers group cooking classes and team-building events.
“It’s like dating someone. You need three dates to figure out who they are,” says Jones, who has a life coach and a business mentor. “If after that third meeting you realize it isn’t working, kindly tell them. They will understand.”
— DO THE WORK: This isn’t a college class where you can skim the assignment five minutes beforehand and wing it during the class discussion. To get the most out of your mentorship, take notes during meetings, prepare questions in advance and, most importantly, work on the things you say you will.
“Here’s the catch: If you’re not working on them, they don’t mean anything to you,” Jones says. “If they don’t mean anything to you, either you’re in the wrong mentor/mentee relationship or you are not ready.”
— CLOSE THE LOOP: Find ways to show your appreciation and build the relationship. This step can be as simple as telling your mentor how you put their advice into action.
“If you have a big conversation with them about an issue you’re grappling with, come back to them and tell them what you ended up deciding. Close that loop,” Green says. “It’s so gratifying when someone comes back to you and says, ‘Here’s what I did and here’s how your advice helped me.’”