Advice Career Monday Motivation

How to Find a Great Mentor Early in Your Career

October 30, 2017

There is a lot of advice out there about mentorship and mentors, namely, how to find one who is the right fit for you.

There are many schools of thought. Some argue that you should never outright ask someone, particularly a stranger, to be your mentor, while others support asking under the right circumstances.

I’m of the opinion that a mentor can come from anywhere, and if it means reaching out to a stranger whose work you admire, then go forth and ask.

Still, whether reaching out to someone you know or a complete stranger, I believe there are certain guidelines you should follow to to maximize your chances for success. Below are eight of them.

1. Network on your own terms.

One of the most important things you can do to find a potential mentor who would be a good fit is to network on your own terms. By this I mean, if happy hours aren’t your thing, or if you’re a parent who has to immediately rush to daycare after leaving the office, then don’t think of weeknight happy hours as being your only option to network with other professionals.

Look for other opportunities to connect, either formal or informal. If there is a morning or afternoon event, try making that instead. Sometimes professional associations host weekend events, which can also be a great opportunity to connect with someone you might have otherwise missed.

Also, don’t limit yourself to formal gatherings. If there’s a person or group of people you’re really interested in meeting then reach out directly to them and try to set something up. Don’t rely on the obvious paths–forge your own.

2. Learn about your community. 

Make an effort to learn about the community in which you practice or work.

For example, if you’re an attorney, most state and local bar associations have newsletters or bulletins they issue on a monthly or quarterly basis. They’re filled with stories and accolades about new and experienced attorneys, events, and initiatives.

Reading these publications is a good way to get a sense of your professional community and those who practice in it. You may take a particular interest in someone’s work or career trajectory, and if you do, reach out to them and let them know you appreciate their work.

Even if they don’t become a mentor, you’ll at least have made a new professional acquaintance.

3. Establish genuine connections.

A true mentor-mentee relationship is never forced, so always strive to establish genuine connections with people. Don’t try to force a relationship with someone because you think they’re important and would be good for your career.

Similarly, don’t dismiss someone because you think their position is unimportant.

Treat everyone with respect and don’t try to change your values to match those of the person with whom you’re hoping to connect.

4. Put yourself in their shoes.

If you’re interested in connecting with someone you view as a potential mentor, be sure to put yourself in their shoes when reaching out to them. If they’re a working parent, don’t suggest meeting for dinner at 6:30 P.M. on a Friday.

On the other hand, if they suggest that time, and it also works for you, then go ahead and meet with them then.

If the person works in a busy practice downtown and you’re located 20 minutes away in the suburbs, when making plans, don’t expect them to come to you in the first instance.

Also, when scheduling plans, don’t wax on about how busy your schedule is when trying to find a time that works. We’re all busy professionals, and it’s very likely that your potential mentor has an even fuller calendar than you.

You’re hoping this person will bring value to your life, so put yourself in their shoes, and try to make it easier for them to connect with you. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Bring value to the relationship.

A mentoring relationship is a two-way street. Often times, the mentor is someone who is older, wiser, and has spent many more years in the field. You may see them in a warm, guiding light, but don’t treat them like they’re a parent and you’re an overgrown teenager.

When you meet for a meal, don’t expect them to pay. If they offer, which is common, you can still offer to pay your way, but accept if they insist–you don’t want to turn a nice lunch into a tug-of-war over the check. You can volunteer to cover the next one.

Similarly, don’t consistently take anything without giving back–advice, assistance, gratitude. You may be early in your career, but you still have value to contribute.

Always be willing to share and bring value to your mentor’s life.

6. Know your goals.

What do you want out of the relationship? Don’t expect your mentor to steer your course. Be prepared with concrete goals and ideas for what exactly it is you need.

Similarly, if possible, know your mentor’s background and values. If their values don’t match your own, they might not be able to help you in exactly the way you’re hoping.

Of course, don’t completely disregard them because of this, but realize they may not be the right fit as your mentor.

7. Trust your instincts.

Sometimes you just know a person would be a good fit for you as a mentor. You’ve seen them countless times, have interacted with them, admire them, and just know that they are the inspirational leader you need in your life.

If there’s someone like this with whom you’ve established a connection, and who has taken an interest in your life and career, trust your instincts. There are a few great mentors I’ve had in my life who have come about just this way, and I still tremendously value those relationships.

8. Don’t be afraid to get rejected.

Finally, don’t be afraid to get rejected. When you’re reaching out to someone new, there’s always a chance that they won’t be interested in meeting with you. Similarly, there may be someone you’ve already met who just isn’t interested in getting to know you any better.

Or, maybe you’ve already started a mentoring relationship with someone, and have begun to realize it isn’t a good fit. That’s OK. Don’t be afraid to get rejected. You’ll have a lot of wins in your life, but they won’t come without losses.

Rejection will help you grow as a professional and ultimately will help you find the right mentor for you.

Advice Motherhood

The Best Advice I Ever Received from Another Mom

October 26, 2017

There’s no shortage of advice for moms out there. New moms, experienced moms–everyone has something to share. The worst kind of advice is the kind that comes unsolicited and without regard for your circumstances. The best kind of advice is the kind that comes with permission and stands the test of time.

When I was a brand new mom, I frequently sought advice from some of the more experienced moms I knew–friends who had undertaken motherhood years before me, who I’d watched with curiosity and more than a little bit of awe.

I trusted their counsel and took comfort in their words. Even if I ended up making different choices than them, I respected their opinions and valued their insight.

It was one of these friends who gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received as a mother, one that I’ve turned to again and again over the years.

The Best Advice I Ever Received From Another Mom 

The advice she shared with me was that, even though I may make certain choices for my life right now, I could always make different choices later. Your plans can change, and that’s OK. Simple, but completely mind-bending to me at the time.

She shared this bit of advice with me over lunch during my maternity leave. As I held my wriggling 3-month-old in my lap and took the occasional bite of summer salad, I explained my plans for my eventual return to work. I expressed my concerns about being away from my son and over the huge changes that loomed ahead.

My friend’s statements, while seemingly simple, were a revelation to me at the time, and frankly, not exactly what I wanted to hear.

I wanted her to say that the plans I made would be perfect, then and forever. I was already nervous about the new transitions that awaited me as a working mom and all the choices I had already made as a new parent. I didn’t want to think that I’d have even more choices to make later on, or that the decisions I had already made for my family could end up being the wrong ones.

As someone who has never been a huge fan of major life change, I wanted to feel I’d be able to settle in to my new life once the dust cleared. I didn’t want uncertainty. I didn’t like uncertainty. I wanted to find comfort in consistency.

But the incredible thing about this advice was that it stood the test of time. I grew into it, and eventually, found comfort in it. While my freshly minted new mom self may not have been ready to hear that life could and would eventually change again, the more experienced me was able to see value in the fact that, although life would bring many changes, I had the power to change with it.

Life will change again and again, whether you want it to or not.

If motherhood teaches us one thing, it is that time marches forward. Though the days are long, the years are short, and what works now will not always work for us later.

The ability to make plans, assess your circumstances, and revise if needed is a beautiful thing. I know that now, and I hope you do too.

A version of this was republished on Scary Mommy on December 24, 2017. See it here!