I have had multiple mentors in my life, all in varying industries, niches, and interests. And I can say with one hundred percent confidence that they were one of the biggest drivers behind my growth as a person.
However, knowing how to find a mentor and also knowing who to let mentor you are two extremely difficult things for people to wrap their heads around. A lot of people say, "I wish I had a mentor," not yet sure of what it is they actually want to learn. And a lot of other people are quick to call someone their mentor without even asking themselves whether that person is the right "fit" for them in the first place.
If you are looking for someone to mentor you, especially if you are just getting started with something new, maybe you recently graduated college or are looking to make a career change, here is what you need to be aware of--and what you should look for:
1. They Practice What They Preach
Finding people who "talk the talk" isn't hard--and honestly, you can find that on YouTube. What you're looking for is someone who "walks their walk." They won't be perfect--and you shouldn't expect them to be (we are human after all). But pertaining to the thing you want to learn, look for someone who walks the walk.
That's the thing about mentorship that people get confused. People think of mentors as "all-knowing" people who can help them with everything, when in reality a successful mentorship is very focused. You choose a mentor for a specific reason, something you want to learn. And yes, there will be ancillary benefits, but a mentor is someone who does what you want to do one day, really well. You're there to learn that one (or those two, or three) things from them. Not necessarily everything.
So, based on what you want to learn, look for someone who "walks the walk" with the thing you want to one day embody yourself.
2. They Want To Invest In You, And You Want To Invest In Them
A mentorship goes both ways. It is an exchange. It is not, "I'm young and inexperienced and so you should give me all the answers." Not even close. Even if you are young and inexperienced, it's your job to push yourself to learn, integrate, and then bring new knowledge to the table.
If you can do this, your mentor should (and often will) want to invest even more into you--because you are now providing value to them as well. This is a positive sign of a healthy mentorship, because both parties are growing.
However, if your mentor isn't all that engaged, or if you as a student aren't giving it your all, then the relationship isn't working. A valuable mentorship happens when both parties are feeding each other knowledge, in some way, shape, or form.
3. They Know When To Push You
You cannot be properly mentored by someone who isn't willing to push you. As much as I have wanted this to not be the case (because in those moments, things are not easy), it is the only road that truly makes a difference.
A good mentor knows how far to push you--and you are going to question it. You are going to fight it. You are going to try to convince them, yourself, or both otherwise. You are going to complain. You are going to feel overwhelmed. You are going to feel very, very uncomfortable--and that's the point.
If the person you want to mentor you, or who is mentoring you, does not constantly make you feel comfortably uncomfortable, you need to find a different mentor. There is an art to it, and the best mentors know how to make you feel both at ease and so uncomfortable you want to crawl out of your own skin. But that's what growth feels like.
Growing pains. Get used to them.
4. They Care About You As A Human Being
All of my mentors have become some of my closest friends.
A mentorship is about so much more than just "learning" something. Yes, that is the foundation, that's the primary intention, but along the way a dynamic tends to unfold that is difficult to put into words. You spend so much time together that you end up knowing each other in a very unique way. It's a friendship that comes around once in a lifetime.
It's one thing to find someone who can push you to practice one skill. That's somewhat robotic. The true value of a mentorship is the emotional growth that tends to accompany it. Yes, you should (and often do) end up far more skilled in your chosen area of expertise by the time the path comes to a point of separation, but if you reflect back, you'll see that you grew in so many other ways. A mentorship challenges you as a person, as an emotional being, and that's where the real growth happens.
5. They Want To See You Succeed
A true mentor wants you to know everything they know. They want to teach you so that you can one day take what you've learned and integrate it with your own unique skill sets. A true mentor wants to watch you go from Padawan to Jedi Master.
Your mentor should be your biggest advocate, the one who you can always go back to and share in those early days of learning. They provide context, and are a reminder of where you first began--and they are proud to have seen you come so far.
A true mentor only wants to see you succeed, unselfishly. And so, it then is the challenge of the "apprentice" to one day take on the responsibility of all that he or she has learned, and fully integrating it on their own, as well as the challenge of the mentor to know that they gave them all the tools to do so.
Finding a mentor and being a mentor is an art in itself. It requires a certain level of dedication and commitment few have. It is a test of patience--on both ends. And it asks you to be open, constantly.
But it is also one of the greatest things anyone could possibly experience--to be a mentor or to be mentored. And so, in the end, it is always worth it.