Mentors are the twinkling pixie dust of the entrepreneurship world. Seemingly by magic they dramatically raise the success rate of new businesses, open doors for underrepresented populations, sniff out overlooked issues before real trouble arises, etc. etc. etc.

So there's no surprise that nearly everyone wants one. Yet many people struggle to develop a lasting and valuable relationship with a mentor. Why? Writing on 99U author Ryan Holiday offers a blunt answer that might be difficult to hear -- it's probably you.

Many young people have major misconceptions about the whole idea of mentorship, misconceptions that prevent them for actually building what could be a hugely helpful relationship. In the article, Holiday busts three major myths about mentors.

1. Mentorship is once-and-it's-done

For eager achievers, mentorship can seem like all the other laurels they've collected along the way. Degree from a top school? Check. Impressive internships? Check. Door-opening mentor relationship?... If you're still waiting for that one, it could be because you see a mentor as akin to your other credentials -- something you acquire once, rather than something you do over time.

This misunderstanding leads to awkwardness that can repel potential mentors. "While you are looking for a mentorship, never actually use the word. Don't ask anyone to be your mentor, don't talk about mentorships. No one goes out and asks someone they're attracted to be their boyfriend or girlfriend--that's a label that's eventually applied to something that develops over time. A mentorship is the same way; it's a dance, not a contractual agreement," Holiday writes.

2. It's a one-way street

Sure, you want a mentor for the guidance he or she can give you, but don't make the mistake of thinking that you're only role is to be a passive recipient of that wisdom or no one will want to be your mentor.

"Successful busy people rarely take on substantial commitments pro-bono. They are picking you because they think you're worth their time and will benefit them too. So figure out what you can offer them so that this can become a mutual, though lopsided, exchange," Holiday says, offering a reality-check for deluded would-be mentees. At a bare minimum you need to give them thanks and the satisfaction that you appreciate their help. But better yet, provide links and research they might find useful, or best of all, the sense that your growing success will soon reflect back on your mentor, Holiday suggests.

3. Your mentor can help you with your problems.

Nope, that's your therapist. Sure, your mentor can offer advice when it comes to sticky professional situations or in-development skills, but leave your personal anxieties and issues at home.

Here is Holiday's tough love advice on the subject: "Your personal life is irrelevant. Your excuses aren't going to fly. If you get asked to do something, do it the way it was asked. If that means staying up all night to do it, then ok (but that's to stay your little secret). No one cares what's going on with you, or at least, they shouldn't have to."

Looking for more advice for a more fruitful mentor relationship? Check out the complete article for additional details, or learn more here on Inc.com, such as the one question everyone should ask their mentor, the value of having a mean mentor, or what ancient philosophy has to teach about being a better mentor.

Senior folks, what do young people often do wrong in your experience when they go searching for a mentor?

Published on: Nov 4, 2015
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