Be My Mentor

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice board

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with gratitude that you just couldn’t convey it via email? Emailing is still the most popular form of intimate communication (as I read online somewhere) but no matter if you add one exclamation mark or two, a ‘thank you’ written at the end of an email is just that – a thank you. So I figured I could write my ‘about mentors’ post (I’ve been meaning to for a while) and hopefully express my appreciation through the same.

So what is a mentor? How do you get someone to be your mentor? Who makes a good mentor?

This is definitely not the first post you’ve read on this topic – I hope! I’ve read a whole bunch of articles as well. Some suggest the best mentors are the ones with x years of experience or those who walked down a similar career path to the one you want to take. Others suggest being more proactive about finding ‘suitable’ mentors and actually securing them as mentors. Here’s my take on it:

1) You can’t secure a mentor. It’s awkward. The moment you ask someone to be their mentor, the dynamic changes. In many cases, it becomes an obligation. Think about your closest of friends. Did you ask them, ‘can you be my friend’ when you realized you wanted to be friends with them? Okay, maybe you did if you met them at a very young age (I may have as well) but based on my experience, it’s not necessary to make it so formal. If the person you look up to is being responsive, that’s all that matters. You don’t want someone to guide you because they’re obligated to but because they want to. 

2) Stop looking for the right mentor. Cross-functional training is huge. Similarly, knowing a variety of people and having them guide you is better than trying to find a person in the right position with the right background. In doing this, we often forget to look around at the people who may not be older than us but could make great mentors. Yes, those younger than you can make great mentors too

3) Mentors need not equal long-term mentors. Just like friends come and go (unfortunately), your mentors can as well. And that’s fine. While we are busy looking for the right mentor who will be okay with guiding us for a longer period of time, we forget to build relationships with those around us. We also forget that the people who have impacted our lives even in the short-term have been good mentors; and ultimately, we forget to credit them for it.

4) Don’t get a certain mentor just to impress others. I never understood why people feel the need to boast about a certain (usually well-known) individual being their mentor. You’re not a company…you need not advertise a certain individual mentors you. It’s a personal thing – if you connect with someone and consider them to be a mentor, that’s all that matters. Don’t be impacted by others’ opinions of your mentor – not everyone has to like your mentor.

5) How do you get someone to be your mentor? You don’t. Maybe it’s just me but I look at the idea of mentorship as one that is more retrospective than forward-looking. While in school, I did exactly what a lot of articles suggested – I looked for someone to be my mentor only to realize that I already had them. I just never realized it. By the time I labelled someone as a ‘mentor’ in my head, they had already been mentoring me. The process should be pretty organic. Build a relationship with anyone and everyone you get along with in your life – some will serve as short-term mentors and others will naturally turn into longer term relationships.

So here are some characteristics of a good mentor: A mentor is ultimately a friend. One you can trust and with whom you can share your weaknesses. Someone who will not judge you and will support you in your endeavours. One who respects you but is not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong. You shouldn’t feel (extremely) bad about bugging your mentors for (reasonable) favours. They’d go beyond the bare minimum to help you when needed. Lastly, they’re more experienced than you in at least some aspects (remember, more experienced doesn’t necessarily mean older).

Note that you can’t identify the above characteristics right from the beginning. (So there’s no point asking someone to your mentor). When you feel all these factors are in place, that means you’ve got yourself a mentor. Woohoo! At this point of realization, if you want, you can message them to say: thanks for being such a great mentor! Just remember that, like any relationship or friendship, keeping a mentor requires reciprocity. It’s always a two-way street. Our mentors are people too so don’t be selfish and try to add an equal amount of value to their lives as they do to yours. That is, don’t connect with them only when you need something.

On that note, I’d like to thank all the amazing people who have mentored me in the past and continue to guide me now. It may not seem so when I email saying ‘thank you’, but I’m eternally grateful for your support!