Most books have a section where the author thanks all the people that made writing the book possible. Who would fill that section in your autobiography? Few successes are entirely independent ventures. Getting the right mentors, coaches and role models can dramatically reduce the amount of trial and error to reach your goals.
Like many of you, I’ve heard this suggestion before. The more important question is how exactly do you find mentors who can give you the benefits of your wisdom?
I haven’t always had a lot of advisors. Aside from the obligatory advice from a few family members, I had to actively seek out mentors. Starting out with little external support, I now feel comfortable that I know dozens of people from different areas of expertise that I trust to ask for advice. I’m far from the worlds best networker, but I have learned a few things about how to attract smart people into my life.
Smart people don’t want to waste their time. Most successful people will be eager to offer advice, but if it seems like you aren’t committed, they won’t bother. For someone who is time constrained, offering up a few minutes for a quick reply is easy, but spending longer to offer thorough advice is costly.
You should be moving towards your goals even if you don’t have advisors. Ironically, this stubborn refusal to let a lack of knowledge stand in your way is exactly the kind of attitude that attracts mentors. Prove to the world you are committed and it might surprise you with the resources it offers.
Appreciate the Advice
A lot of advice is bad advice. You rarely get a chance to follow up on every suggestion you get, and some of the ideas you get thrown at you are downright lousy. But don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you respect a persons experience and success, listen carefully and appreciate any advice given to you.
Listen carefully and thank the other person for their suggestions. Even if you choose not to use that advice, remaining humble is crucial. Your mentors are humans too, and they have egos to protect. Don’t damage their self-image by ignoring or disrespecting their advice. If you have concerns, raise them, but your goal is to learn not to persuade.
The best place to find mentors is through organizations. Online forums are a great place to start looking for mentors. While a purely online relationship lacks the emotional depth of understanding and support, the internet can be a great medium for finding mentors. Search out forums, newsgroups or associations and work your way in.
Organizations that have a paid membership base often have a higher quality of mentors at your disposal assuming that the membership base is large enough. Free forums are mostly noise with just a few experts dispensing advice to the often ungrateful masses. Paying for membership to either an industry association or clubs like Toastmasters can also be a way of demonstrating your commitment.
You have to give before you get. In the case of mentors, this can often be confusing. What do you have to offer your mentor? There are many things you can add but here are just a few that I’ve found useful in providing value to those who can advise you:
- Advice – Perhaps you have an area of expertise that doesn’t overlap with your expert. Peer relationships work great for giving mutual advice.
- Resources – Do you have resources in your network or life that could benefit your mentor?
- Ideas – Even if you aren’t an expert, you might be able to offer a fresh perspective. I respond to a couple readers of this blog through e-mail from their sometimes lengthy questions. I find the challenge of addressing others problems hones my own ideas. I’m sure that the many people who advice me appreciate this as well.
- Enthusiasm – Ultimately the best way to reward a mentor is to infect them with your positive attitude and enthusiasm for a goal. If you can make a person feel good for helping you then they will want to do it more.
Ask for advice! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might get turned down. People can be too busy or they may lack the skills to communicate their knowledge. But if you ask most people they will be willing to respond and help.
Don’t ask someone to commit to being your lifelong mentor. That is too big a commitment to make upfront. Don’t ask questions out of laziness either. Mentors won’t take kindly to being asked questions that a five second google search could have answered. But if you are genuinely stuck on a problem, ask.
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