It took me a long time to build the career I always imagined.
I always felt that I had a lot of potential and wished that someone would see that in me and guide me to reach my full potential. Sure, I had people I looked up to, even learned from, but no one who really invested a lot of time into my own development. That sort of relationship is a very rare thing, which is why when you find it, you cherish it. You know that it's a gift.
How I developed my career is an interesting story:
I had just graduated from college and applied for a project management position at State Farm Insurance Corporate Headquarters, Systems Technology Department. But this wasn't just any project management job. These were multi-million dollar projects planned from scratch. My first job was to manage a team of over 150 people and $5 million in project assets. I remember thinking to myself, "Okay, this is a little intimidating for a 22-year-old, but I can figure this out. I can do this."
From the moment I stepped into that position, I made it my priority to start looking for ways to learn from the people around me. For example: the woman that hired me. I would ask her questions all the time because we'd built that little bit of rapport. Her guidance helped me take steps in the right direction.
Then there was the person who transitioned me into the project and had already worked for the company for several years. I got a little bit of mentorship from him too. Again, these were people around me that I was just asking for help.
Then I found someone who had more of an entrepreneurial spirit. that had seen a lot of different environments at different companies over the years and had a wealth of working knowledge. I didn't directly ask him to be my mentor--it was really not much different than the other two people I had turned to for help. It's just that I showed an interest in learning, I asked a lot of questions, and he took the time to share what he knew.
It's when those two things meet that you find a mentor. It's a bit of luck mixed with persistence. It has to be a person you have the right rapport with, but also someone that cares enough to spend time teaching you.
So, what can you do to build that rapport and allow for that to happen? How do you attract a mentor?
1. Show an interest in learning.
It's amazing to me how many people put "finding a mentor" on a pedestal. It doesn't have to be some big, elaborate moment. Like I said, it comes from just showing an interest in what you do.
The people I mentor today, I mentor because I see an impressive level of ambition and drive. If anything, it gives me a glimpse of what I probably looked like as a 22-year-old stepping into that first project management position.
Because I speak all over the world, I have people reach out to me on a regular basis saying, "I want to be a speaker." And really, I try my best to point people in the right direction and answer their questions. But it's amazing how many ask for help only to drop the ball and not follow through on the guidance that you took time out of your busy schedule to provide. That's the quickest way to lose a potential mentor.
One of my most successful mentorships actually came from a cold outreach on LinkedIn. He said, "Maria, I want to become a certified trainer like you. Here's what I've done so far. Here are all my certifications. I've already reached out to a bunch of other people, but no one has replied. I'm not sure what to do. Would you at least be open to a conversation?"
When I saw his email, it reminded me of me. It reminded me of a younger version of myself, sending out those same emails, asking for help and no one paying any attention.
I thought, "Okay, I see a bit of myself in this person. I'm going to give him a shot. I remember that feeling when nobody would help me, so let me help him."
Let me tell you, every single time I gave him a bit of guidance, he acted on it faster than I could blink. He would come back and say, "Okay, I did it. Now what? What's next?"
Over and over again.
What did this do? It made me want to help him even more.
His interest in learning was that powerful.
2. Talk to the people around you.
Don't underestimate the value of people around you. Again, going back to this idea of putting mentors on a pedestal, I think often times we think of "mentors" as being "exclusive." They're people we can't reach, can't get ahold of. Some people think a "mentor" is someone who is so wildly successful they would never have the time to take someone under their wing.
That's just not true.
You can learn something from everyone. Some people end up being more influential than others, but the people in your immediate vicinity are a great place to start. Like I said, how you actually find a mentor begins with rapport, and it's much easier to build that with people you interact with regularly. It's the person you have a working relationship with that has valuable insight to share and the willingness to share it that ends up becoming a mentor.
So don't underestimate who is nearby.
For all you know, your mentor might be sitting right next to you.
3. Ask plenty of questions.
Finally, you need to put yourself out there if you want someone to take notice.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. There's no better way to show how interested and eager to learn you are than by asking questions.
What you don't want to do (and the mistake a lot of people make) is to try to prove how much you know. The value of a mentor is for them to teach and for you to learn. So if your attitude is, "Well, I already know the answer," then any potential mentor is going to think to themselves, "If you already know, then what do you need me for?"
Asking questions is what gets the ball rolling. You ask a question and someone provides an answer. You ask another question, that same person provides another answer. Do that long enough and you'll realize that person is doing a whole lot more than just teaching you.
They're mentoring you.
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