What you need to know about choosing a mentor

This might sound obvious at first, but it’s something that’s easily overlooked: when choosing a mentor, make sure they know you. 

So often, it’s easy to want advice from someone because you admire where they are in life, or you think they are successful. The reality? Asking for personal life advice works so much better when the person you ask knows you really well. And I mean actually knows you. Maybe they coached the soccer team you played on, worked with you on a research project in the past, or even taught one of your college classes. Whatever the case is, as much as a mentor should be someone who you respect, they should also know your personality (through in-person interactions). 

I wanted to share this quick piece of advice because I’ve had mentors in various stages of my life. When I reflect on the conversations I’ve had with them and the ideas that they shared with me when I asked them to provide insight in difficult situations, the best advice always came from the people who knew me the most. They were the ones who were able to make a gentle suggestion, because they knew I would take what they said seriously, or say nothing at all at times when they knew I needed to “figure it out” without them sharing exactly what they thought. 

Always try to keep in mind that nobody’s perfect. No matter who your mentor is, they are not always going to have the best opinions or advice to give you in every situation you encounter.

This was and still is a major growth point for me. I had to learn how to separate someone’s opinion of what they thought I should do from what I needed to do at the end of the day. This is very challenging if you’re someone who likes to listen to other people’s advice.

On the one hand, you might be asking someone’s opinion because you genuinely want to make a smart decision. But on the other hand, you don’t want to take advice from someone if you’re doing it to please them. Make sure to have an honest conversation with yourself to decipher how you view the advice you are receiving from your mentor. Journaling your thoughts can also help you in this process. 

You might be thinking: Okay, it’s obvious that my mentor should know me, but can’t I just build a relationship with them through mentorship conversations? While I do think you can get to know someone by chatting over coffee, it’s more natural when you’ve known your mentor prior to asking them to be your mentor. I’m not exactly sure why or how to describe it, but there’s less pressure on the relationship when it’s someone you’ve interacted with on a regular basis outside of the “mentor” label. 

Just think about your closest friends. You probably didn’t walk up to them out of the blue, ask them to be your friend, and then start hanging out with them. This is funny to even think about because it’s totally backwards! You likely had something in common, spent enough time together, and then you just became friends with them.

A great mentor relationship works the same way – it happens naturally with someone who already knows you. It sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked. Who knows, maybe you already have someone like this in your life and you just didn’t realize it.

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