I was obsessed with Melissa*. OK, not obsessed with HER exactly, but what she had DONE so far in her career–the things she had produced, the organization she worked for. She was a successful ‘marketing maven’ working for a very cool organization. She was a leader. I wanted to be just like her. After finishing my Master’s Degree in Costa Rica I did what I thought everyone was doing, and found a way to get an informational interview with her in order to learn more about her and how she got to where she is now.
My secret plan was for her to fall in love with me, want to teach me everything on how to carve a path out just like hers. I wanted her to be my mentor.
Unfortunately, the informational interview didn’t go that well. Melissa wasn’t rude or anything, just not really that interested in helping me, and definitely not interested in mentoring. When I asked her how to get into her field, she said something like;
‘I honestly just fell into this.’ and ‘Hard work.’
(Oh really? Like sorta how how celebrities just work out sometimes and eat what they want. RIGHT.)
I wasn’t devastated with her responses, but I was disappointed. I thought, for some reason that this very successful woman would want to help me figure out the next steps in my life, provide a bit of mentorship , leadership development or even a word of encouragement. But she didn’t.
Eventually (because of my own hardwork and networking) I had the opportunity to work with her as a contractor. I reached out to her via email, and reminded her of our previous chat. When we met again, she met my confident handshake with a blank stare. Only 2 years later and she didn’t remember me at all.
I was confused, embittered, and a bit hurt. I had been following her and her career for a while, and she didn’t even take the time to search her email to recall our correspondence. I was, and still am a bit, miffed by the whole experience. I know it’s not easy to find a mentor, but I was clearly looking for a crumb of confidence in my search for the next big thing. I was incredibly discouraged that she didn’t feel the call to reach back, especially considering that I had sought her leadership out.
My generation has been gifted with the encouragement from our friends and loved ones to follow our passion. We are raised with the idea of ‘if you dream it, you can do it.’ Unfortunately, we’ve been given the vocabulary, drive, but not always the right tools to reach our goals (Cal Newport’s Forbes blog talks about this in greater, more controversial depth). We have incredible opportunities to do almost anything we want, but sometimes it feels like we’re all deer in the headlights; shocked at the chance to do something, paralyzed with fear on how to go about doing it. It would be amazing if at least once, somebody came to the middle of the road with us, took our hands and showed the right way to go. Unfortunately, it seems that those who would be our mentors are uninterested, too busy or feel like we’ll be too great of competition in the future. Those of us who are undeterred by the lack of leadership build it ourselves, finding volumes of encouragement from other sources, getting inspired and connecting from entrepreneurs and blogger online.
Most likely, the hard work naturally strengthens us. We become leaders ourselves.
Experts suggest building relationships with people before asking them to mentor you. Although I agree with the concept, I also believe that people in leadership positions have the responsibility to seek people to nurture as well. They should constantly be seeking opportunities to teach, support and guide those who are trying to follow a similar path. A big part of leadership is building a legacy of leaders behind you. Why wouldn’t you want to support somebody else’s dream?
It’s not all hopeless, of course. I’m continually hit with the graciousness of my friends and colleagues who take the time to be a peer, a friend, and sometimes even a guide.
Caren of Happy Momentum took the time out of her busy yoga business to help me with my blog.
Carol of the Freelance Writer’s Den runs a huge online forum for writers and continually takes the time to respond personally to emails and other writer’s start-up business plans.
Ann, my current mentor and friend introduced me to Rotary International, which has been instrumental in changing and inspiring some of my most challenging life work.
When I needed guidance, they reached out, unsolicited, and offered their expertise. Not because they felt that I wanted to take something from them, but because they believe in giving, freely.
I want to be a mentor to somebody someday. I want to make an impact that changes somebody’s life profoundly. I hope that my work will inspire somebody to reach out to me. I also hope that I am ready at that time to take the challenge, put out my hands and reach back.
*Melissa’s name has been changed just in case she Googles me someday.