Before there were books, universities, or classes, there were mentorships to pass on wisdom and knowledge. In the west, mentorships exist since the Ancient Greek times—it’s a tried method of learning.
Sometimes people mix up apprenticeships and mentorships. An apprenticeship is basically an internship, which is a system that was created in the Middle Ages.
If you wanted to become a tailor, baker, or merchant, you became an apprentice first and learned the craft on the job.
The main difference between the two is that mentorships are informal. And that’s exactly what makes it difficult to find a mentor.
Most people understand the value of mentors, but finding one is not easy. I also didn’t have mentors until I was out of college.
But in the past six years, I’ve been lucky to cross paths with three great people, who became mentors to me, and taught me invaluable lessons.
There are also several other people that I speak to every once in a while — we exchange ideas, and share knowledge—they are also like mentors. So mentors come in many types of relationships.
Here are seven things I learned about finding a mentor.
1. Become A Learning Machine
Before you start thinking about finding a mentor, you want to think about two things:
- What’s your field?
- What can you bring to the table?
It’s astonishing to me that people want to find a mentor without any sense of direction. For example: If you want to work in sports, it doesn’t make sense to find a mentor who’s in art (unless you want to bring art to sports).
If you’re looking for someone who grabs you by the hand and tells you about life, you don’t need a mentor — you need experience.
And you only get experience by doing things. You can’t expect that people hand you everything — that’s not what a mentor does.
First, decide what industry you want to work in. Second, study that industry. Before you find real-life mentors, your mentors are books, degrees, courses, YouTube videos, or any other source of knowledge.
You need basic knowledge of life and your field if you want to find a mentor. No one’s waiting for a puppy that they have to raise.
It’s important to bring something to the table before you approach potential mentors.
2. Work On Your Emotional Intelligence
Because of the informal nature of mentorships, you need emotional intelligence if you want to find a mentor.
Emotional intelligence can be defined in many ways, and my definition is this: Don’t be annoying.
If you have a mentor, you will spend time with her — and because it’s informal, it all comes down to likeability.
Likeability is also something that some companies stress during interviews. Because they know they will spend a lot of time with people who join their company, they ask themselves a version of this question: “Would I hang out with this person?”
If you don’t want to be annoying, here are some tips:
- Don’t try to be someone you are not
- Don’t think you know it all
- Be honest and humble
- Don’t try too hard
- Tell stories
Basically, do whatever Dale Carnegie writes in How To Win Friends And Influence People.
3. Don’t Ask
Let’s get down to the practicality. If there’s some you look up to, and you want to learn from, it’s time to approach her. You can find people who could mentor you everywhere.
Don’t just think of influential people — look in your family, the family of your friends, friends of your friends, etc. Look close. That will make it easier to connect.
But you don’t call or email someone and say: “Will you be my mentor?” People will probably think you’re delusional. Most people don’t mind helping others, but it also can’t be a one-way street.
If you’re contacting someone for the first time, try to keep it short and simple. You can ask a simple question, or give them praise. You don’t want ask for anything big.
Also, please don’t email people and offer them coffee in exchange for free advice. Anyone can buy coffee, but not everyone actually can bring something valuable to the table. You have to be compelling for someone to spend time with you.
4. Add Value
When the other person responds to you, start thinking about adding value to them. You can do that by researching them or their company.
And if you want to add value, you need #1 on this list. You can’t add much value if you don’t have knowledge or experience.
Offer them help, create something, give them ideas, anything — be proactive.
5. Be Mindful Of The Other Person’s Time
Always keep in mind that the other person doesn’t owe you anything and never will. You’re looking for a mutual relationship.
If you ever want to set up a meeting, do it whenever they have time and wherever they are.
It shows that you’re serious about learning, will do whatever it takes, and most importantly; that you have emotional intelligence.
6. Take Your Craft Seriously
If you’re approaching someone who’s successful in what they do, it’s very likely that they take their job seriously.
You want to meet them with the same intensity and passion (also, don’t fake it or try to find a mentor so you can tell others about it).
One of my mentors told me early on: “I meet a lot of annoying, negative, people who just work to get a paycheck. What’s the fun of being around those people?”
It might seem like a fair assumption that everybody takes their job seriously, but that’s not always the case. However, if you do take your craft seriously, that can be very infectious.
Read more: Stop Trying to Be Realistic
7. Stay In Touch
Because you don’t ask people to become your mentor, you want to put it differently. If you can tell that they enjoyed meeting with you, you can say:
“This was very useful. If you feel the same, do you want to make this a recurring thing?”
Be prepared to hear a no. Some people might be busy or focused on a project. Take it graciously and say you understand, but don’t go into hiding. Try to send them relevant things in the future.
Finally, when it comes to frequency: I speak to my mentors every 2–3 months. And in between meetings we sometimes exchange emails — for things like book recommendations, articles, or questions.
Unless you have the opportunity to work together on a frequent basis, you don’t need to meet your mentor every week because you want to take their advice and apply it.
So give it some time. But try to keep the momentum by staying in touch via email or text messages.
These are my tips. I don’t know all the answers, and this is not a clear-cut blueprint — don’t expect to find one anywhere either.
Finding a mentor is a not a formal thing, so don’t treat it like one. Mentorship is like friendship, and that’s what your mentor eventually becomes: Your friend, always keep that in mind.