A good mentor is worth his or her weight in gold, but in order to really reap the rewards of that relationship, you need to be a good mentee.
Since Father’s Day is right around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time for this article. Why? My father is my mentor. Now, don’t stop reading because you think this is only going to be sentiment and not a truly practical tome for business types.
Yes, my dad mentored me through my growing years the way all good dads should. Yes, I think he’s the best thing since sliced bread, bee’s knees, and cat’s pajamas. Yes, I’m biased; he’s brilliant.
But, we have an added dimension to our relationship now.
My father is a retired publisher. I am a freelance writer. I’ve published a non-fiction book, The Wine and Chocolate Workout – Eat, Drink and Lose Weight. I’m currently working on my first fictional novel. I asked for his help to build my writing career several years ago and, boy, did I get it. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a mentor.
If you don’t have an amazingly helpful father, who just happens to be in the same industry you are, I hardily recommend contacting SCORE. SCORE is a government organization that connects small business owners with retiree volunteers from their field.
I briefly worked with a wonderful woman from SCORE. A true pioneer in the weight loss industry who was willing to give her time and advice as long as I did my homework.
What I learned from her was, I wasn’t interested in building the business I thought I wanted to build. She saved me years of disappointment and frustration.
Once I settled on my new career path, I was lucky enough to have a mentor right in my own family. Family is great. They are usually terrific cheerleaders and want to see you succeed almost as much as you want to do it.
But, working with family can also highlight the most common mentor/mentee relationship problems.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned about doing it right .
1. Check your ego at the door.
Simplistic. Easier said than done. But, if you can’t manage this, you might as well not waste your mentor’s time. If you already know it all, why do you need them?
In a book by John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You, he talks about 4 stages of growth. The first is incompetent and unaware. In other words, we are so incompetent, we don’t even know how incompetent we are!
It is the unfortunate job of your mentor to help you move quickly from incompetent and unaware to incompetent and aware. This is the most painful stage of growth.
Our natural reaction is to shut them down. Who wants to hear how ignorant they are? Horrible. (It is especially bad if the person telling you has always treated you like a princess.)
2. Prepare your questions in advance.
It is good to come to any mentoring session armed with pertinent questions. Your mentor is a busy person. Believe it or not, they think about things other than you between appointments. Your questions will remind them where you are in the growth process.
If, out of respect or laziness, you leave the conversation completely up to them, prepare to be overwhelmed. Because my dad is my dad, his mentoring flows very naturally from family business to my writing career. It’s not a formal thing.
I have learned the hard way to flip the control switch when we get to writing. Without thinking about it, he can reveal the entire mountain I’m going to have to climb. If I’m only a quarter of the way up, that can be very discouraging.
3. Do your homework.
Again, what is the point of having a mentor if you don’t do what they suggest? If you think they’ve given you the wrong assignment, argue it out with them. Politely, of course. You need to understand the reason for the task.
My father and I have had to hash through solutions for my biggest problem – creating a fiction writing schedule – several times. I’ve tried many programs. I report back to him what’s working and what’s not. Both the brainstorming and the accountability are priceless.
4. Don’t expect your mentor to be omniscient.
Your mentor, especially if they are retired, may not be up to date on all the latest and greatest changes in your field. My father is a bit disgusted with the whole digital book world. If it’s not paper, it’s not a book to him.
I talk to other people about digital publishing and save my dad for the kind of classic writing advice that never goes out of date.
5. Don’t think because your mentor isn’t omniscient, they’re obsolete.
Fundamentals are fundamentals. In the book world, you may be a techie who can format for Kindle, Create Space, Kobo, and Smashwords, but if you don’t understand the basic elements of a story, you’re sunk.
You can hire people to do social media for you, you can’t hire someone to lay the foundation for your career. You need creative insight and wisdom more than you need to understand the latest trends.
6. Let your mentor know how much you appreciate them.
There are only two reasons someone will take the time and emotional energy to mentor another when there’s no pay involved. Regardless of which category they fall into, a little appreciation will go a long way.
The first is, they’re built for it.
They get a charge out of it the way you get excited about what you do. I am friends with, and have been coached by, a woman who is like that. She lights up like a neon sign as soon as somebody says, “Can you help me?”
The second reason is (Okay, here is where I am going to get sentimental.) because they love you. Who wants to see their loved one succeed more than a dear friend, spouse, or parent?
I am blessed to have a mentor who is motivated by both. My dad is a terrific tutor. He loves to help others just because he thinks it’s fun. And, whether I deserve it or not, he loves me.
To the best dad and mentor a girl could have – Thanks Dad and Happy Father’s Day!
photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net