I remember, once upon my early thirties, my boss telling me I should have a mentor—specifically, I should find a mentor in a particular industry and geographic area.
I was pretty offended, frankly. I was serving as a mentor for a few staff members and people outside the organization. I felt I was well-respected and I took it personally, as if I was being told I "needed work."
Well, I did need work. I still need work. The difference between then and now is that I can see it and recognize it (most of the time).
With a few more years (as in more than one decade, but not quite two) I have learned that:
A) You will never be so at the top of your game that you can't learn from someone else's experiences, and
B) You should approach everything as an opportunity to grow.
But more than that, I also learned that the type of mentor(s) I choose makes a difference, and that those needs may change over time. I consider myself lucky to have relationships with several people that I can turn to for advice, for encouragement and bolstering of courage, and in general, just be around to benefit from their wisdom, all around generosity and willingness to listen, to guide and to hold me accountable (AKA "call me on my crap").
How do you find a mentor?
Look around. Who has done what you are trying to achieve? Who has the career, company, reputation, life, etc. that you are seeking for your own career?
Ask. Maybe not right out of the gate, but find a way to meet with the person. Don't know them? Ask someone to make an introduction.
Meet with them. Be honest—you admire what they have done and you hope to learn from them. Spend more time listening and/or asking questions than talking about yourself.
Thank them. While being respectful of their time, thank them for the opportunity to talk and ask if they would be willing to meet again. Tell them you hope to learn a lot more from them. Then SEND A THANK YOU NOTE. A real one.
Follow up. If it feels approriate, include a note or send an email with your key take aways. This means a lot to people. Everyone wants to feel as though they have been helpful to someone else, or that sharing their experience was of value.
And finally, make sure you pay it back.
Your experiences are valuable to others. Take an active part in mentoring co-workers and others who can benefit from your experience. You learn as much from them as they do from you. There are lots of organizations that seek mentors for young professionals and for colleges students that will be happy to pair you up with someone seeking guidance from someone with your experience.
While we're at it, I'd like to introduce you to my 2017-2018 University of Iowa Women in Business mentee, Amber Rouleau. Amber hails from the suburbs of Chicago and is a third year senior at Iowa. And no, that doesn't mean she's in her third senior year. That would have been more like my path.
Amber is a go-getter. What I've learned from Amber is that today's best students come into college with a plan, and work really hard to achieve it. She's basically got her career path planned out, and even if life throws a few curve balls, I'm confident she can handle it. I'm not sure what I've been able to provide for Amber—other than lunches—but I'm really honored to have gotten the chance to know her this year.
“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.” ―John Updike