Why mentors are important

Why mentors are important

Mentors are importantI presented in front of a group of students and provided this analogy.

Imagine… that in 5, 10, 20 years, you find a time machine and can travel to the past.  You want to tell your past self something about the future.  Unfortunately, you missed bringing the history of lottery numbers and stocks picks so you decide to give them a glimpse of their future career.  Of course, you don’t want to violate any time travel paradox rules that might blow up the universe, so you decide to disguise yourself as a seasoned, well respected person in the job  field you always wanted to get into.  You find your past self and you tell them that they can ask any about their future.

What questions would you want them to ask you?  Well your past self doesn’t know it is you, only a well respected person in their field.   So instead, put yourself in your past self’s shoes.  Imagine the possibilities for the questions you could ask.  You can ask your future self anything about your future career.  You could ask:

  • What degree should you take to best get yourself to your career goals?
  • What clubs should you join to add that person to your network that will refer you into that career catapulting role?
  • What volunteer work should you do to get yourself the skills to accelerate your career?
  • What are the things you should do in the first week, month, year, decade of work that will best help you achieve your potential?

And all of those possibilities are why a mentor is so important.  

You don’t know, what you don’t know

If you were to really encounter your future self and had the ability to ask your future self questions about our career, that would be an amazing opportunity.  A challenge is that you might not even know to ask certain questions.  When I decided to pursue a degree in computer science, I thought I could get a job doing two things: as a developer or as a network administrator.  I fell into a career in management consulting “by accident”, as in I joined as a developer, and now try to share the perspective that there is so many opportunities in the working world than you could imagine.  I always found it fascinating to ask people how they got to where they are in their careers because the answers are often unexpected and intriguing.  So be curious about people as you might find a role model and / or a mentor in unlikely places.

Why doesn’t everyone have a mentor?

Very good question.  Most successful people and all of the successful people I know have had mentors.  Their mentors may not have been official (i.e. they never got down on one knee and asked, could you be my mentor?), but consistent informal mentors are not as common as you might think.  From my conversations with those I coach and mentor the following are the two most prevalent reasons:

  1. I don’t want to impose: Mentorship is actually quite a large responsibility since as a mentor, you are expected to provide sound advice and guidance to someone for them to better themselves.  It’s hard to ask to burden someone with that commitment, so people often don’t
  2. I didn’t think I could ask: A mentor seems like a foreign concept to most and seems more fitting for science fiction stories with Jedi’s and padawans, or wizards and apprentices, and doesn’t seem like someone normal people have

My view is that everyone should have a mentor if not a few mentors as you might have a different mentor for different aspects of your career.  A mentor is nothing more than someone who you seek out for guidance and advice and more importantly trust their guidance and advice enough to listen and put their words into practice.

So find a mentor.  Find many mentors.  And you’ll find that your career will be better off as a result of the mentors you find!


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