One of the world’s geniuses was right about standing on the shoulders of giants as being a sure way to get ahead. Mentorship is seeking the counsel of those who came before us. It is less painful to learn from others. Mentorship could be a formal arrangement with stipulated terms or it could be a cup of coffee every so often. It could also be a lifetime relationship that evolves as growth happens. The last arrangement is priceless and requires commitment from the two parties. Shorter arrangements work as good as longterm ones as long as the goals and expectations are clear. For this post, I will focus on a professional mentorship setting.
I do not like snakes at all. The slithering is disconcerting to me. I like to take hikes and Sherri is the best person to call for the best trail paths. If Sherri tells me that a path has snakes, I don’t need proof or any additional information. On the other hand, she took me on one hike in the middle of a forest and I had the best view of my small town. If your professional journey was a hike, you would want Sherri to save you the trouble and let you know the snake free path right?
That is mentorship.
In 2016, I had in my diary names of two people I wanted to meet and learn from. They were and remain big brands that are inaccessible as a personal preference. I wrote their names down as a coin toss to the universe. The previous year had seen me resign from a job and lose a contract due to the electioneering period. I figured I had nothing to lose by writing my wish down. Sure enough, I got a job in January and in a month, I met the first person on my list. Three months later, I sat in a class taught by the second one.
God has set the universe to conspire for you. Write your dreams down.
A year later, the company folded and I found myself yet again joining the statistics of unemployment. I reached out to one of my wishlist MVP (at least in my books) and pitched myself as a great asset to their company. I pray that those cahoonas grow back. My late 20s have made slightly risk-averse. They made it clear that there would be a conflict of interest given our previous engagements. It broke my heart. As I walked to the bus stop, I told God that maybe I had run out of luck. Later that evening while making dinner, I streamed a sermon and the speaker addressed the anxiety of waiting on God. Literally in the middle of it, he says,
‘Some opportunities are held back because only God can take credit, it’s nothing to do with you!’
I am surprised to date that I did not slice my thumb off. I made peace with yet another rejection and moved on.
Remember what I said about writing your dreams down? 2017 was no exception.
In April 2018, I walked into a studio as a temp and ended up hosting a radio show. It evolved into a TV show where I had creative control. I was mentored by a myriad of people for the job. James Okumu took me under his wing and gave me notes every week on what could be better.
I met her during the shows where she talked about mentorship and its place on the road to success. I was on that road. She agreed to meet for breakfast. A woman after my own heart. That was the best four hours I have ever invested in myself. The first thing she asked was to write down my goals for the next year (2019). She also introduced me to year compass, a reflective annual planner. Again, I wrote without reservation for all the aspects of my life. I even entertained the idea of a marriage engagement to the person I dated at the time. The thought tickles my ribs. The ring did show up but they guy did not.
I share the two examples to show you the possibilities of different responses to reaching out to a potential mentor. Do not be discouraged if you have presented yourself the best way possible and the person is not open to mentoring you. You probably don’t need that energy. It could also be an incompatibility issue. Mentorship is vulnerable and personal. Connecting with the right person is a top priority.
A mentor is a person(s) you look up to in your current field or that which you intend to pursue. Their journey reflects the growth you desire. Their expertise is one you could highly benefit from. Age is not an issue but older people tend to have more experience overall. Mentorship is best if they are accessible to you physically or virtually. Start out where you are and ask that boss, supervisor, or relative to mentor you. Social media has made people more accessible and is a great place to find a mentor.
Two months ago I was scrolling twitter at ungodly hours. On the @MomentswithBren page, was a call for women in the creative industry seeking mentorship. I bypassed any logic and applied immediately. Selected candidates would be contacted in March. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, any good news is the currency. The email gave me information on my mentor, the process, and expected decorum as a mentee.
Using that email as a backdrop, here are expectations from a professional mentorship program;
Successful mentorship is founded on professionalism
Mentors honor their time by making it valuable and suited to your needs. Reciprocate that with the utmost professionalism. Keep time and honor any commitments made that will push the relationship toward goals set.
Mentorship is for you
Do your homework. Ask questions. Make the time value for your mentor. If they chose to invest their time, resources, and networks, they must believe in you.
Your mentor is not obligated to share their networks with you. Please don’t solicit offers and make it awkward. The upside is, your mentor will recommend you to someone in their network, if you are a great match. Share with them a profile of the people you are looking to network with and the value you offer and make that conversation that much easier for them.
Please be clear about what you both intend to invest in the relationship. How to communicate concerns and give feedback. The process and timeline of goals evaluation.
If it sounds like a lot of work it is because it takes a lot of investment for both parties. It is, however, worth it when successful. Social media has given access to a global network. Professionalism cuts across despite the medium. Reach out to potential mentors with a clear understanding of their work, the value of the interaction to both of you and allow them room to consider the opportunity.
If you are a lady and a creative the program For Creative Girls connects women in the same industry for mentorship. I am halfway through and can attest to the benefits of having an objective in-depth analysis of your background, current state and work towards your goals.
Don’t forget to write your dreams down!