It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post simply because a lot has been going on in my life lately. As my primary care doctor said Friday while wrapping up my appointment, “You’ve experienced a lot this past year.” There was a pronounced pause, and as I contemplated what she said, my eyes welled up and I felt my lips curve sideways slightly…Yup, I sure have. That conversation is material for a different blog post, but for this one, I want to write about mentorship as I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while. I’m at a point in my career where I have mentors and the experience has proven to be invaluable.
A few months back, I wrote that I received a promotion which was a big deal. With that promotion, I was assigned a mentor, who was on the interview panel. Before I knew that he would be my mentor, we chatted briefly prior to the interview and I got a good vibe from him instantly. Since then, we’ve been meeting for lunch and phone and connect through email. I’ve been determined to absorb as much as I can, which is why I think I’ve been open to the mentoring experience.
I also have mentors outside of my agency and of different disciplines, backgrounds, ages, sex and race. I think it’s important to get different perspectives. However, I will write a different blog post on how to handle it if one of your mentors provides advice you perceive to be off base (stay tuned) . As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable with being vulnerable and there are few things more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know something. I’ve learned the temporary discomfort of vulnerability leads to growth. Therefore, I’m more willing to reach out for help and use my resources. I’m willing to hear constructive feedback and use it to make myself better.
From my experience, there are many benefits to working with a mentor such as knowing that someone supports me, having someone to listen to my concerns and answers my questions without judgement, and having someone to provide guidance.
Knowing that I have another person in my corner is a great feeling. I’ve always had people who have supported me, but this is different. A mentor is devoting their time because they want me to succeed. Depending on the work climate, people may support you until it conflicts with their own interests. Because my mentor does not work in my area, I don’t think he has anything to lose by supporting me. I also have a mentor who is retired and I regard one of my dear friends as a mentor. Again, neither have any dealings with my agency, so their support is unconditional.
I make it a point to keep in communication with my mentors as often as I can, especially when I’m not feeling confident. When you have support resources available to you, use them.
Listen to Concerns and Answer Questions
It’s important for me to be able to share my concerns with someone who will not judge me. I already have issues with trust in the workplace based on plenty of hard lessons learned. Trusting my mentors will not judge me is an act of vulnerability. I focus on the benefit of me sharing the information and I trust my judgement that they are trustworthy.
If trust is an issue for you, it is a good idea to assess if the person you want to mentor you is a good fit for you. Do you trust their judgment? Will they support you? Are they interested in your success? How are they perceived by others (i.e., what is their reputation)?
I’ve gotten some valuable feedback and ideas that I haven’t thought of myself by sharing my concerns with mentors I trust. It has also been game changing for me to be able to ask specific questions without worrying I’ll be judged for not knowing something.
In order to accept guidance, you need to be willing to hear constructive feedback and be open to incorporate different perspectives into your life. I have to leave my ego at the door for this. Since I’m focused on advancing in my career, I am open to following the guidance offered by my mentors. For complex situations, which I have a few, I listen to the different perspectives of my mentors and then make a decision. This has not always been easy, however, they’ve provided me with great guidance.
I can’t write enough about how life changing it has been to work with mentors. For career growth (or any other areas of growth), it is definitely worth it to reach out to people who are where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement, although some agencies do have these. It starts with developing relationships and expressing interest in others. Striking conversations about non-work related activities, inviting them out to lunch or coffee/tea, asking questions about their area of expertise…these are a few ways to start building relationships to get you closer to your mentor.