One of the first things I realized growing up, is that it’s always great to have someone with more life experience around to be an advocate for you and help guide you through life’s crazy turns. There’s no better way to learn about something than to soak of the wisdom of someone else’s knowledge. Who doesn’t want to better themselves? Some people like to use the phrase “student of life” and if that’s true for you, then there’s no better way to learn than surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. So whether it’s at a teacher in school, the coach of your sports team, a family member, or in my case, a mixture of current and past coworkers who have been around the block in the advertising & marketing industry that I work in. It wasn’t until I was in college though, that I truly started to understand the value that a a mentor brings to the table, and the further I go in my professional career, that value grows exponentially. So in more detail, here are the top five reason’s everyone should have a few mentors they can turn to:
You may know you’re on the right track for your future already, but some people don’t know where their life will take them. In this case, mentors can serve as inspiration by showing you what you can achieve. Even if you’re not interested in following in their footsteps, a mentor can not only show you what’s possible through their own example of hard work, but they can help build your own confidence with extra validation that you are in fact on the right track for whatever path you do end up choosing to take.
Even if you are still not sure what path you need to be on, a mentor can use their experience and knowledge to suggest different things that you may want to explore based on what are are already interested in. When I was entering college, I had no idea the wide breadth of jobs available to someone with a business degree… but my mentor (who worked in advertising) had a similar personality and similar interests to me; so they were able to suggest that I start things off by narrowing down my focus to marketing or advertising.
Also, think about this… have you ever been faced with a crossroads at work or personally that could be a big decision? Since a mentor has probably already crossed that road (or seen someone else close to them do so), the mentor can give you guidance on how to best handle the situation.
Given that a mentor is typically someone who has a little more life experience than you do, you’ll also typically find that they have a wider network of contacts that they’ve accumulated over the years. This is great for you because it can mean access to additional resources for knowledge if you wanted more than one mentor. Also, you can’t forget the old saying that it’s often not what you know, but who you know – and I’ve found that to be increasingly true. Even my first full-time advertising gig when I started at Vanity Fair in New York City serves as a prime example when I landed an interview because of a contact of a friend that worked in Human Resources at Condé Nast Publications. Now, I had a pretty killer resume, but I don’t think that would have been enough to get past their online application system.
Not only does a mentor serve as a guide, they can also be a valued confidant. Sometimes you may just need to vent a little and don’t want the fear that something you say may be used against you within your organization. Most mentors understand that all conversations are totally confidential, but if you can always take that extra step by having them sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that your shared conversations are completely confidential and private. That way, you’ll always have something to share with HR if the need arises. But beyond the outlet for venting, a mentor can provide feedback, help with conflict resolution, and serve as a sounding board for you to bounce ideas off of.
5. Keeping Up Appearances
It doesn’t hurt for others to see you “running with the big dogs” if you’re caught having lunch with an SVP at your company or some other influential taste-maker. Jim Rohn says,[pullquote width=”275″ float=”left”] You are the average of the people you spend the most time with.”[/pullquote] I completely agree. If you surround yourself with others who challenge you to become a better person, you’ll find that it keeps you on your toes more. So don’t just think of this as some show off exercise, a mentor can actually help others visualize your drive to improve yourself because they will see you actively making an effort. So take a look at your mentor(s), and even your social network, because those closest are a direct reflection of you.
And I’ll leave you with a lighthearted but serious note – One of my fiancé, Kevin’s favorite quotes from none other than the big guy himself, Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Season 2, Episode 3):
“Nobody does anything without help. People open doors for me and I’ve worked hard to open doors for you. It doesn’t make you any less of a man to walk through them.”