It’s hard to imagine Ralph Macchio as a karate master without the help of Mr. Miyagi. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine my career success without a mentor of my own. Let’s walk down the path to finding and keeping mentors.
We make sacred pact. I promise teach karate to you, you promise learn. I say, you do, no questions. –Mr. Miyagi
During college and career training, mentors come from unexpected places. Some of my best mentors were just fellow students who knew what they were doing. During those transitional years while you’re trying to determine a path for your life (and, yes, maybe a little partying) random pockets of wisdom tend to surprise. Don’t discount your professors as being out of reach, though. They have office hours. Use them!
During professional internships I kept myself busy by shadowing anyone who would allow me to sit by their desk and filling yellow steno pads with lists and lists of questions. During this stage I felt like the most annoying being on the planet, but keep in mind that’s why internships exist. Often, a good intern is one furiously filling a notepad. There are many interns out there who are content to sit in a corner playing Angry Birds. Make sure you are not one of them, and instead are taking advantage of the knowledge that surrounds you. Also keep in mind that a mentor doesn’t have to last a lifetime. Sometimes a mentor for the day, week, or even a few hours is enough to root a skill that you’ll use for the rest of your career.
I found the early stage of my career was the most valuable time for me to have a great mentor. I am a climber, always looking for my next skill set I could master. My mentors in those early years connected me in ways I never could have done myself, or at least ways I couldn’t have done myself without considerable obnoxious door-knocking and E-mailing. Those connections led to promotions and opportunities.
During my career shift was the first time I found myself without a mentor. I left a company and career with one set of rules and found myself without anyone to ask about the hurdles, stumbling blocks, fears and challenges involved with that switch. Honestly, there might not be another person in the world going through an identical experience. You may, however, find that one of your new associates in your new position or field you’re aspiring to break into may come from a similar background. Another option is to find a professional group online to make some professional connections in your new career path. Shameless plug: if your professional association needs help with membership management or web solutions, give us a shout.
So how do I find a mentor? Meetup.com has several groups that appeal to people in career paths similar to mine, so I plan on crashing one of their parties soon. If that doesn’t pan out for you, there are always Linked In groups. Don’t forget to carry cards wherever you go, smile, and shake a lot of hands. You never know where your Mr. Miyagi is hiding!