The importance of finding the right mentor
To quote Denzel Washington, “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living -- if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”
From experience, I can tell you that finding the right mentor really does feel like finding a gem. When I was in high school, I was lost, as most students tend to be. A levels had me at my worst, with stress levels running through the roof at one end and self-esteem sinking so deep I couldn’t see it on the other. So, when I felt like I was floating in panic, it was my mentor who kept me grounded. At the time, my mentor was my Math teacher. He sat me down and drilled into my head a hundred strategies on how to cope, and a thousand reassuring words. And he kept doing it until I passed with flying colours. By the time I was done with A levels, my purpose in life could not be any clearer. I was going to be a Math teacher! In my naivety, I wanted to be like my mentor so much I took it quite literally. But I digress. The takeaway from that anecdote is that a mentor is someone who can extend a well-worn hand of experience and comfort at your worst moments.
In every phase of life, and every environment we are thrust into, it is only natural to seek a figure we look up to and want to be like. The dictionary defines ‘mentor’ as ‘an experienced and trusted adviser.’ In reality, the meaning behind the word is so much more nuanced. I learned this as I moved into a different phase, my first job. It was there that I met my second mentor, my editor, and true to her title she sparked in me a determination to be diligent. I was told by my parents that the workplace would be a cut-throat environment, and maybe it is. But when I met my mentor, I found someone who genuinely had my best interests in mind. Someone who sought to nurture my skills and encourage me. And once again, that was what kept me going in moments of doubt. When I thought, “Am I really cut out for this?” There would be a voice saying, “I believe in you.” Over and over again, in so many different versions.
That’s hardly the only thing they’re good for, though. The mentors I found were established at what they did, and they were willing to share their trade secrets. As a result, I had so much to learn from them.
Beyond being good at what they do, mentors are people who care. That means they will be there to support you and listen to you. They will hear you out, and when necessary, they will call you out. The experience they have, and the experiences they choose to share with you, are invaluable. Finding the right mentor can boost your morale and efficiency and accelerate your development.
While sometimes the mentor-mentee can develop organically, as it did in my case, at other times being proactive is necessary. Think about people you admire in your current environment, whether it be at the workplace or in academia, and see the skills they possess. If you find someone you want to be like, then be bold and tell them that you admire them. Ask for their advice. However, you should remember to be respectful and not push yourself onto them to be their mentee. While everyone appreciates being told they are admired, the person you select may be too occupied to nurture you in the way you deserve. It’s important to be okay with that and keep searching.