Finding your Mentor

Why are busy working people so eager to help strangers enter their business? Why are they willing to take time away from their work? To disclose trade secrets? To train their own possible competition? They do it for a number of reasons:

  • They love what they do and they love sharing it with others. (Don’t you get jazzed talking about the things you love, especially to people who also love them?)
  • They want to give back for all the help they received when they were getting started.
  • They want to give to others what they didn’t received when they were getting started.
  • They like the energy that a passionate newcomer brings.
  • They enjoy the act of teaching and the pride that comes from being asked for advice.
  • They believe in their occupation and want to see the industry grow.
  • They are reminded that they have dream jobs themselves, and appreciate with fresh eyes how much they have learned and accomplished.

Finding a mentor of your very own 

So, mentors are out there, ready to cooperate with you. But how do you go about finding one?  Here are some things to look for:

  • Passion. First and foremost, look for people who are passionate about their work. Look and listen for signs that they genuinely love the field. Who wants to learn form someone who’s bored or burned out?
  • Expertise. Look for someone who is an expert in the field. Perhaps you have already heard about someone with a sterling reputation. If not, once you narrow your search to one or two prospects, ask others in the field about them. How are they regarded?
  • Teaching ability. Look for people who are good teachers. It is not enough to be an expert in the field; your mentor needs to know how to transmit knowledge to you.
  • Longevity. If possible, pick someone who has been working in the dreamjob for five years or more. By that time the mentor will have worked out most of the bugs in the job or business, will have demonstrated staying power, ad will have a longer term perspective to pass on.
  • Connection. Most important, pick someone with whom you ‘click’. You want to be able to ask all your questions, be entirely honest, share your fear and your excitement, feel comfortable and have fun. In short, you want someone who makes you feel at home. If you have a choice between a more experienced mentor who is a litlle standoffish and a less experienced one who treats you like an old friend, go with the latter. You can always do a second testdrive with the more experienced mentor later. Make your first one as comfortable and fun as possible.

Nowhere is it written that you have to have only one mentor. Once you have found your first mentor and made your The Grand Tour, you may decide there are things you like to learn or experience with someone else. A different mentor in the same field can give you another perspective on the dream job or a chance to practice what you have just learned. A mentor in a related field can give you experience that complements and extends what you have already done.

Even more than you bargained for: forming a long term relationship with your mentor

Most people go into their mentor relationships hoping for advice, encouragement and maybe a few contacts, and sometimes they come away with more: long term business partnerships. Whether in formal working relationships or informal, ad hoc arrangements, travellers and mentors often continue their relationships in ways that are mutually beneficial.