Should You Have A Mentor?

On one of my websites, I have quotes from several successful people extolling the virtue of mentors. In fact, a couple of them pretty much say that if you want to be successful, you should have a mentor.

Now, just because somebody (even somebody successful) says something, doesn’t mean that everybody who hears it will run out and do it. So, let’s take a look at it and see if this is something you should do.

Most people I talk to fall into one of two camps. Either they understand about mentors and the value of them, or they don’t. If you are in the former, you already know that you should have a mentor.

For those of you who aren’t so sure about a mentor, let’s explore a little.

You may not even be sure what a mentor is. If not, let’s start with a definition. The WordNet (originally compiled at Princeton University) dictionary defines a mentor as:

"a wise and trusted guide and advisor"

That definition is repeated in essence in many dictionaries and thesauruses (or thesauri, whichever you prefer). Sometimes they add teacher to the definition, as well.

Do you know anybody who doesn’t need a wise and trusted guide? Anybody who doesn’t want a wise advisor? Anybody who knows everything and doesn’t need a teacher on occasion?

I know that I have had mentors throughout my life. Some of them were consciously performing the role of mentor and others were unaware that they were doing so. But all of them were fulfilling the role.

A teacher might be a mentor, but not necessarily. I have had teachers that were interested in imparting the material, but not necessarily in advising and guiding my life. I have also had friends who were interested in advising and guiding my life, but didn’t meet the wise (and, sometimes, the trusted) part of the definition. Perhaps you have, too.

There are other roles that also fit the wise and trusted guide/advisor definition. But they are not mentors. A consultant might be brought in to advise and to guide a company or person. If the consultant isn’t trusted, then why pay them money? But I don’t know anyone who would characterize every consultant as a mentor (although some consultants are truly mentors.)

Likewise a coach, a therapist, a psychiatrist, psychologist, teacher, etc., may be a mentor, but it is not a given. One of the things that changes the role from “just” a helper to a mentor is an intentional relationship.

It takes intention on at least the part of the recipient (“mentee”) to look upon the trusted advisor as a guide (a mentor) and to be willing to learn in that context. It works best if the relationship is intentional on both sides. Then, deliberate (and often rapid) progress can be made.

An implication of relationship is time. There has to be time spent together (even for virtual mentorships) and the passage of time. Effective mentorships don’t happen overnight nor are they one or two-shot things. A consultant can work with an individual or a business for a limited period of time and deliver solid, valid advice and guidance, but that doesn’t make him/her a mentor.

By the way, a mentor can be paid or unpaid. For this discussion about having a mentor, it doesn’t matter whether the mentor is paid or unpaid. (There are pros and cons to each which I will address in another post.)

So, should you have a mentor? I think so. I think everyone should seek out mentors. I know people who want a mentor, but wouldn’t dream of asking someone to mentor them. If you are one of those people, ask yourself, “how would X know that I want him/her to mentor me?” And answer yourself, “They wouldn’t.”

How much is success (however you define success) in life worth to you? Do you think that you can do it all alone? How much more can you achieve if you have someone who has been down the path before (and maybe guided others down the same path) guiding you?

After answering those questions, what are you going to do about it?

Do you have a mentor who made a difference in your life? I would love to hear about it.  (Hint:  Use the comments.)

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