After uncovering some behind-the-scene of education's dirty little secret, I thought I had the perfect idea for a course or program I could teach. Since I've personally spent thousands of hours doing it, and have had success with it in my own life, why not teach people how to find mentors and how to successfully apprentice under one to learn a skill or craft. But also to return the favor.
I ran my brilliant business idea to a friend who is much more successful than me. He noticed the biggest flaw in my concept: “William,” he said, “you're picking a market who by definition has very little knowledge about it. Try giving it away for free. Test the water and work your way from there.”
He's absolutely right. It’s decided. Below are some of my thoughts on mentorship - why its the future of learning, and the surest path to acquiring skills and achieve success. More importantly, how to find the right one and make the most of the relationship.
Thanks to all the people who have mentored me. The taught me how to think, how to endure difficult times, helped me to solve problems, guided me to the right path, and gave me thousands of their valuable hours when I asked for them. I hope I've made it worth their while.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about mentorship. Here are some:
- Mentoring is NOT about you. It is a symbiotic relationship.
- You DON'T wait for a mentor to find you. So you must get the balls rolling.
- Learning from a mentor is ACTIVE, not passive. And a lifetime opportunity.
Keep them in mind. Always.
First of all, let's get something out of the way. School is important, don't get me wrong. But you were lied to. School has become a massive shell game. There is a debt crisis going on in the US from student loans. Around the world, underemployment for grads is nearly 20%. And if that's not enough, college grads working minimum wage jobs is up 70% in the last decade. To put it bluntly, you spent all that money for a credential to start in a field you're supposedly qualified for, but can't. I don't know about you, but I call that a scam.
It turns out I was right all along. Your helicopter parents steered you to conclude that your degree is worth something in today's economy. But it turns out, you got flushed out by people with decades of experience competing for entry level work.
School didn't teach you the shit you actually need - this is true even if you're a doctor, I've written a long story about it here. If you were lucky enough to learn like me, you've probably realized that was when your education actually started.
Also, what about the people who wanted to pursue a particular field that didn't even exist years ago? Or those who needed skills not offered in schools? Where were they suppose to learn those skills?
The question is: do you want to learn this on your own by trial and error or would you like someone to help you?
Fortunately, there are really intelligent people out there willing to help. In other words, mentors are in many ways the solution to the mess we are in.
You'll get ahead much faster when you're taught by a successful person. There is a reason apprenticeships have a direct correlation to mastery. “Go directly to the seat of knowledge,” Marcus Aurelius admonished.
Having a mentor is very rewarding. They help you in more meaningful ways than any school could offer. My mentors did far more than help me get ahead in my career. They gave me not only the model to live, but also helped me channel my creative energy and guided me through difficult times I would have otherwise been incapable of navigating.
You're asking me this question? C'mon man, you need to do your homework.
Who do you want to be like? Find out the leaders and innovators and talented people in your chosen field.
In this regard, I found that reaching out to the best people is not the absolute best solution. I’m more fond of the second, or even third best. These people may have actually spent more time studying the world's best than the champions themselves.
First, don't ask anyone to be your mentor. Never talk about mentorship, just leave the word alone.
You'd be stupid enough to go out and ask someone straight up.
Second, for simplicity, apply these logic:
- Start slow and small. Ask a question to someone you can benefit from having answered. Take it from there...gradually for godsakes.
- Don't call or email a total stranger to ask them to commit to give you hours of their time over a period of years and demand the gift of mentorship, because you'll be disappointed.
- Study the person. Understand his strengths and weaknesses.
- Lastly, very rarely someone would help someone else for genuine altruistic reasons. Unless the mentor is a blood relative, they'll need something interesting from you.
Which brings us to the next thing.
Quid Pro Quo
Bring something to the table. Anything. Even if it's just your energy. Or thanks. You cannot keep asking and not give anything in return.
Figure out what you can offer and keep giving.
The bigger the payoff you can offer, the longer they'll take you under their wing.
Don't Expect Too Much
Whatever you're asking for, it's probably too much. Scale down.
Have realistic expectations. Don't be greedy.
There is a reason why they have what you don't.
Mentoring is a relationship. It is organic.
You need to let it grow over time based on mutual respect and trust.
Don't force it. That will kill your relationship faster than anything.
Give it time. Do your work and it will grow.
There Will Be Homework
This mentor is not solely responsible for your education, well-being, or success.
You better be reading, experimenting, and connecting with other people.
This mentor cannot want this for more than you want this for yourself.
So you better show up every day hungry and eager to learn.
We all have egos. I must admit, mine used to be big. But now I realized they are useless.
Asking for feedback can be hard, but it's good. I always welcome them.
Feedback teaches you to conquer your fear.
They become the highlight of your relationship as you progress.
A good mentor will treat them with sensitivity and great care.
You will screw up - a lot. Leave your ego at the door.
Don't wait to admit and say: “I'm sorry.”
Having that in your toolbox is always handy.
They will forgive your errors if you indicate a propensity for identifying them.
Mentoring is not seasonal. You can't do it in one summer. That would be an internship dumbhead!
You have to commit. Mentoring takes real time and real work.
Come hell or high water, you'll make it work.
Then, you’ll begin to understand what it means to be the disciple, the protege, the student.
Stay in the picture. Your mentor is busy. You'll be easily forgotten, remember that.
The key is to keep everything relevant and fresh.
Your personal life is irrelevant. Nobody cares what's going on with you, until they do. But before then, keep your shit to yourself. Handle it privately.
They took a chance on you. So get your shit together. Go deliver.
One last thing, unless you're asking a question, shut up. Your mentor does not need your opinion.
I make no claim this list is exhaustive. There are thousands of other tactics. The point is learning by experience. Sometimes you have to fall to know it hurts, I did that, on more than one occasion. This experience will reduce the chance of you making mistakes, or missing out an opportunity.
More importantly, what do you want to get out of this? Your grand strategy. You need to know where you want to go.
You've spent all that time and energy. Now make use of it.
Mentorship elevates you to experience and meet people you otherwise wouldn't have.
You get to work on projects that were previously out of reach.
It's not enough to want a mentor or even be lucky enough to find one. But if you do it right, it can change your life.
Finally, move on, achieve the success you want, and don't forget to return the favor to someone who is in the same position you were once in, later in life.
Wow! That sounds like a lot of work does’t it? Well, it is. So don't take it lightly. Good luck!