While traveling with a wise and respected community leader, I jumped at the chance to learn from her. Never one to pass up an opportunity, I explained why I admired her, then asked for guidance in an area with which I’d struggled. With grace, and refreshing honesty, she willingly shared her observations of my performance.
Her words were both comforting and challenging. Some were hard to hear—and yet I was grateful. With her help, I became aware of areas in which I need to grow. The best mentors tell us what we need to hear, not what’s easy to hear.
Women need the help of other women, especially those whose wisdom and experience pushes us to grow beyond our limits. I would not be where I am today were it not for the willingness of good women — and men — to challenge me in just that way.
Yet how does one go about finding a mentor? Do they just drop into your life? Do you put an ad in the paper? A sign in the yard?
No, of course not. All you really have to do is pay attention, and speak up.
When you look around at work, church, or in your community, who stands out? Who do you keep noticing? There are inevitably women who impress you in some way. Their’s may be a technical skill, such as computer work or graphic arts. It may be managerial, as in how they run a meeting or plan events. It may be interpersonal, such as how they handle conflict or practice leadership.
It may simply be practical. She has six kids and still has a life. How does she DO that?
When you spot these women, make it a point to speak up. Ask them where they learned those skills or how they pulled off that feat. You may be able to do this informally in social settings or by volunteering to join in on some task or event. But you may also need the more formal step of specifically scheduling time to talk. When you get there, be prepared to ask specifically about those areas in which you most want to grow.
Mentoring can come in the form of a single conversation, such as my road trip with that incredible woman, or it can be an ongoing relationship, as in a job training program. It can be formal, or informal, brief or long term, paid or volunteer. What you’re looking for determines where you go next.
The simple task of interviewing those you admire can add much to your knowledge of the world. You’ll come away from such conversations inspired, encouraged, and always with one or two practical bits of advice that stick.
On the other hand, if you want to develop specific skills, ask your chosen mentor to consider working with you for a period of time. Be careful to define what that means. Would you like to meet with her on some regular basis or would you rather come to her with questions as needed? Do you want to work with her on a project so you can follow her lead? Or would you rather have her serve as advisor to a project of your own?
Mentors have a gift of seeing in us the promise of what we haven’t yet seen in ourselves, teaching us the skills we need to deliver that promise, then challenging us to become even more than we thought we could be. Pretty heady stuff, right?
Don’t worry. There is no magic to finding a mentor. Usually, all you have to do is ask.