20 Oct 2016
Mentorship: The Most Important Relationships are NOT Romantic
When you think of the word “mentor,” what’s the first image that comes to mind? A college professor? Non-profit programs helping today’s troubled youth? Often times those who have successfully graduated into adulthood leave their traditional mentors behind, paving the way on their own and relying on self-intuition to inform daily decision making. Today, I’m here to preach the gospel, EVERYONE needs a mentor at every stage of life, and it’s essential to be an active participant in choosing this figurehead to fast-track your goals, especially to make it in the New York City.
Whether or not we know it, mentors influence our actions from the day we’re born. As children, parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, cousins and others set an example and influence your subconscious with examples of how adults exist in the world.
As we grow we’re suddenly armed with the power of choice. We become stakeholders in deciding how we’re impacted and inspired on a daily basis- a responsibility that’s often daunting. The trick now is being cognizant of your mentors, both passive and active, and making sure these figureheads are helping guide you in the direction of positive growth toward personal and professional goal achievement.
Before we jump into the Condoleezza Rices of mentorship, let’s take a step back and recognize the understated mentors of our lives, who play a subconscious role in shaping our destiny: Passive Mentors. Who and what do you interact with on a daily basis that impact the way you view the world?
Take for example the first album I listened to on repeat for four weeks straight in my Walkman CD player- Britney Spears’s stellar debut circa 1999. I thought this girl-not-yet-a-woman was THE BEES KNEES, emulating all the confidence my awkward tween self pined to become. Listening to “Crazy” and “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” I subconsciously awarded Miss Spears with the privilege of becoming my first self-selected mentor, harnessing her loveable persona around the halls of my middle school with pink pom pom pigtails and Limited Too clothing that resembled the tarte ensembles she rocked in videos (pre-Slave 4 You days). You can only imagine how my starry eyed world got a reality check circa 2007 when I decided no, it’s probably not a great idea to follow suit with the head shave… I had to recognize this mentor was no longer ideal for my personal growth (until her stellar comeback this year).
We choose to fill our brain with influences from pop culture, music, television, podcasts, to comedians we follow. There’s a fine line between entertainment and emulation, so by no means am I suggesting all you Criminal Minds fans are subconsciously striving to crack the next Amanda Knox mystery. It’s important to feed our brains with content that’s also inspirational and informative, connecting us to a public example of someone whose work we admire. Beyonce is revered for being a “Queen Bey,” but what really do we admire in Beyonce? What does it take to become Beyonce (besides 50 squats a day and a voice combination of Fergie and Jesus)? One quality applicable to every path is her work ethic and confidence. There’s no doubt Beyonce has an unbelievable drive, trudging through set-backs and having an unshakeable sense of self-love that in turn, becomes contagious to those around her. How can we harness that Beyonce work ethic and apply to our daily grind?
The other side of passive mentorship lies in your friends and peers. There’s a proverb that says “You’re the culmination of the five people you interact with most.” This is often approached with skepticism, especially if you’re a social butterfly, but think about it… Are you not more motivated when you surround yourself with equally driven individuals? Are you more likely to say “I’ll workout tomorrow” when your friend is adamant on Taco Tuesday instead? The power of peers is not to be underestimated, since these folks have the biggest direct impact on your immediate surroundings and daily decision making. We’re all individuals with our own goals, so it’s important to take stock on your kin to make sure there’s a healthy balance of support, creating a positive environment that enhances success more than distracts. No, all your friends don’t have to be Nobel Peace Winners, but it is always beneficial to surround yourself with those who are on your same level of ‘Yonce-status ambition.
The act of seeking a mentor can be intimidating, but undeniably valuable. First off, how do you know if someone is qualified to be your mentor? Not unlike a romantic relationship, you need compatibility on a friendship level, with an added element of mutual respect, admiration, and learning from one another. The act of asking someone to be your mentor should be complementary to that individual, and they’ll be inclined to invest in you (their time, energy, resources) which shows they believe in your capabilities.
So how do you find a mentor in New York City and how do you approach the process? Some tips:
1. Find someone you respect. If you don’t have someone in mind, networking is usually the best place to start. The city has never-ending opportunities for professional meet ups where you can come equipped with your card in hand, ready to build and foster relationships with those in similar industries. Google meet-ups in your industry, ask your colleagues, even your former professors and acquaintances might point you in the right direction
2. LinkedIn is a great resource, perfect for those skilled in the art of “cyber stalking.” Don’t be pushy, make sure to be polite in your contacting and always try to start slow
3. Be friendly and just ask! Once you have someone in mind, just ask them if they’re interested in mentoring. You’ll be surprised how most people love the idea
4. Get to know them: Once you’ve “popped the question” I find it’s best to meet for coffee, happy hour, or a walk along the Hudson
5. Be casual: Leaning toward casual rather than a business setting will allow the relationship to blossom organically, building a foundational rapport rooted in friendship
6. Be critical: It’s important to take their advice, but also prove you have your own ideas and judgment- challenging and asking questions when applicable, while also hearing out their seasoned opinion. Instead of “yes-ing” them to death, perhaps you have conflicted ideas and play devil’s advocate to engage a more in-depth convo? Your mentor will value your critical thinking and ultimately decide you’re worth future professional investment.
Keep in mind to manage expectations. If your mentor is high on his/her professional food chain, it’s likely they have a jam packed schedule, so you shouldn’t feel miffed if your meetings are rescheduled once in a while. I try to meet my own mentor once a month but sometimes I only see once every few months since he travels so frequently. I’m not his BFF, but we do make quality time for each other, and if I ever have an urgent professional question he answers within the hour. But he’s been a great influence in my career, in fact even my current job is the result of the tremendous doors of opportunity he has helped me open.
What’s your experience with mentors? Have you had one? Drop me a line!
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