The Importance of Having Mentors

A mentor is defined as an experienced and trusted adviser — however, in my life, my mentors have been far more to me than that.

I've been fortunate enough to have a few great mentors in my life and career, who have helped shape who I am not only as a professional but as a human being. So much, that I feel compelled to talk about why having a mentor is beneficial for you and your career.

Career Expertise

In most cases, mentors are a bit further along in their career and can provide guidance and wisdom for how they achieved a certain path. In some cases your mentor is your direct boss, however certainly doesn't have to be. Sometimes they are a professor or teacher, maybe someone else you work with, or someone you admire in your personal life. Whoever it is, this person carries some sort of weight for you in terms of giving you advice on how to meet your goals. For example, my first mentor was my very first boss right out of college. I admired her career path and successes along the way, thus turned to her for direction on how to get to those same places.

Free Therapy?

I am only half kidding about this one...

I can think of more than a few occasions where my mentors have been my emotional support system when it comes to work and non-work related experiences. For example, I was really struggling with my workload last year, and my one of my mentors (who also happened to be a trusted colleague) was there to provide an ear and input on how to handle the burden and the burnout I was facing. This person has seen me cry a time or two, but without shame, I felt comfortable enough to lay it out there. My point is, mentors are a great source of support for things you might be struggling with.

For Better, For Worse

For better or for worse, your mentor knows your strengths and opportunities. Whether you find your mentor through a formal mentoring program through your job or someone you have met organically throughout your career, this individual should know all about you. You can then come to this person with something you are struggling with, and they will know how to help you and provide that level of objectivity. Maybe you want to apply for a role within your company, but you aren't sure if it would be a good fit. Your mentor knows your technical skills and soft skills and can help you make a more informed decision.

The Mentor Criteria

Of course, when choosing a mentor, it doesn't necessarily have to be as formal as The Bachelor choosing his life mate with a single rose. My mentors have just kind of assumed that role for me in a very unspoken way (I have shared with them that I consider them mentors, however). That said, when thinking about your mentor, you want to ensure that this person has the time/space/energy to really serve that purpose. On that same note, don't be afraid to make the first move and invite them to coffee or have a phone call to start solidifying the relationship (this is especially true if you haven't known the person for that long). You may even want to schedule monthly catch ups in the beginning so that there is something formalized about your interactions.

The Wind Beneath My Wings

No, but seriously...

I have two very specific mentors in my life. I feel the same way about mentors as I do about best friends — it's OK to have more than one.  For me, I have one mentor who helped me mature and grow my work ethic in my early career. Many of the things she taught me were around being a strong woman, and a strong leader. She has seen me cry way more than anyone I know. She taught me how to be a recruiter. She is someone that showed me that women can have it all. She is my Michelle Pfieffer in Dangerous Minds. For these reasons, among many others she has grown to be one of my closest friends who I still consider a mentor and look to for advice on just about everything.

My second mentor was my boss for a short time at my most recent job. I am now in a very different stage career-wise than I was when I met my first mentor. This person really helped me get out of my own way. My insecurities are definitely more evolved now than they were back in the day — and this guy really made me confront them and get over them. He pushed me so hard, that I hated him for it until I didn't. He doesn't give me the answers, even if I beg him. He is so honest with me, it hurts sometimes.

All of these characteristics and more is what makes a mentor great.

Do you have a mentor? If not, finding one could be a great way to start 2018.