Part 4 of 4 in my series Finding a Mentor.
I’m here to let you in on a little secret about finding real-life mentors.
But, if you’re a mom, you might already know this secret about finding a mentor in the real world.
What’s so special about moms – in particular, new moms with babies and toddlers running around?
One, moms of very young children are extremely busy. I myself have a young child, and I’m here to tell you that it’s almost impossible to understand ahead of time how a baby or small child will reduce the amount of free time you have to basically zero. As in, “Did I manage a shower today? Awesome!” (Those of you with children are nodding your heads vigorously right now.)
Two, most new moms are extremely grateful for the emotional support, advice, product recommendations, and etc. they’ve recently gotten from other new moms. I remember being told about bouncy chairs by my dear college friend. (Amazingly, I had previously never heard of them.) During my son’s first 6 months of life, bouncy chairs allowed me to eat a meal uninterrupted and go to the bathroom in peace. (Thank you, Konnie.) I could go on and on about advice for morning sickness, safe bedding, nursing schedules, stretch marks, as well as the free babysitting I received.
As a result, new moms are greatly motivated to pay if forward and help other new moms, despite being very limited on time.
How do they do it? Here's the secret:
New moms create a network of mini-mentors.
New (including expecting) moms create networking opportunities for themselves. They have baby showers; they create groups on Facebook and Meetup.com so they can network with other moms, they post their experiences and problems on social media so other moms can comment; they have play dates.
And then, other moms heed the call. They come to the showers and play dates, join the groups. And what do they mostly talk about? They talk about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. They share stories, lessons learned and advice. They commiserate, but mostly they help.
Many, if not most, new moms create for themselves a network of mini-mentors: a group of people they can turn to for various things they need related to parenting. Instead of relying heavily on one other mom to meet all their needs, they draw on many people, a little at a time. And they know who they can turn to for various things: I go to Sue for advice on food allergies, to Alberta for advice on getting back into shape post-partum, to Erika when I don’t know how to handle my child’s tantrums.
And this is the big secret for finding mentors in the real world: develop a network of mini-mentors for your career.
(I want to acknowledge here all the dads who are just as busy as the moms, especially the stay-at-home dads. However the moms, for whatever reason, do much more mini-mentor networking than the dads. Just check the Facebook or Meetup groups in your local area and you’ll see what I mean.)
Below are six reasons this strategy works well for careers, as well as for parenting. I’ve also included some simple strategies for starting your mini-mentor network.
6 Reasons We All Need Mini-Mentors For Our Careers
1. You are employing the power of micro-commitments
Yes, it is awesome if you can find someone who is willing and able to become your true-blue, formal mentor, someone who will meet you every month and check in with you when you get off-track. However, it may take some time to find this kind of match. In the meantime, there are almost certainly people around you who are willing to make micro-commitments of their time: 30 minutes of brain-picking over coffee, a brief email exchange, a question while you happen to be together at a party or other event.
Try this: Make a list of five people you know that could potentially be mini-mentors right now. Don’t stop until you reach five (or more).
2. Having multiple mentors lets them specialize
Mentors are real people, with strengths and weaknesses just like you and me. Let them mentor you in what they are really good at – and let go of the expectation that they can fix all of your problems in every aspect of your career.
Try this: There may be a temptation to pick the person that is most comfortable to ask. But the best strategy uses the reverse approach – make a list of what you’re good at. Then a list of what you wish you knew more about/were more confident about. Now rank the second list. The top 4 are the areas were you should seek out a mentor.
3. Each mentor exposes you to a new network of people, ideas and opportunities
If your mentors specialize in different professional (and personal) areas, chances are they also have distinct social networks. Make sure that some of your time with them allows for connections to these networks to happen, either by chance or by making specific introductions. Networking is still one of the most important ways to build businesses, find jobs, and get “fresh blood” into your creative thinking.
Try this: Consider your list of five potential mini-mentors. Sketch or describe the network each one has. Do they completely overlap or are they different? If they are not at least somewhat different, add another potential mini-mentor to your list, one who does have a different network.
4. Different mentors have different perspectives
For a number of years in my former field of adventure education, I relied heavily on one person as a mentor. This person advised me that, in order to make the industry safer, certain activities in our field were becoming passé and should be eliminated. Following this person’s advice, I told my staff and clients the same thing. Some clients objected, and I think I actually lost a little business over it. But, I held fast to what I had been taught.
About seven years later, I had a new mentor in this field, who had a different perspective on some of these same activities. My new mentor believed in keeping some of these “higher risk” activities, but changing the way they were facilitated to manage the risk and lower the chance of injury. Same desired outcome – safety – with a different approach.
I still value both people as mentors. And, I am now more likely to take the advice of a mentor and think it through for myself, rather than just following what I’ve been taught. If you have more than one mentor for a topic that is very important to you, you are more likely to gain a broader, more nuanced understanding of the issues – and the possibilities.
Try this: Consider a topic, skill or issue that is crucial to you in your current field. Who in your list of mini-mentors might have different perspectives on it? If you are not sure you may ask, or you may consider adding another person to your list.
5. Mentoring relationships have a life cycle
There are many reasons that a particular mentor may cease to be a primary mentor after a while. This person may teach you all they have to teach on a particular subject. You (or they) may change careers or specialties. One of you may move away, and the relationship may lose its momentum without regular contact. Your mentor may go through a life change (such as illness, childbirth, or the extended care of an elderly parent) and may not have time or energy to mentor for the foreseeable future.
If you have chosen well, this relationship will not end but simply evolve, into a friendship or something similar. You may stay in contact, but may realize you just can’t lean on this person the way you used to.
If you have developed a mentoring network of mini-mentors, the evolution of this one relationship will have less negative impact on your career overall.
6. Mini-mentoring networks create an easy way to give back
When you develop a network of mini-mentors, chances are, all of you may be donating micro-commitments of mentoring back and forth – including you. This is in part because you will be following the 3-to-1 Rule I outline in Part 2 of this series, which you can find here.
It’s also because some of the mentors in your network will be peers, rather than people way ahead of you in their careers. Your peer mentors will offer you their expertise, and you will offer them yours.
And, as part of giving back to your mentors, you’ll probably introduce some of your mentors to each other, which will add strands to the web. (Think about the new-mom networks I described above.)
All of this giving-and-receiving-and-giving-again will keep the enthusiasm and the momentum up in your mentoring network. It’s an easy way to keep it going, and it just feels good to be able to pay-it-forward on a regular basis.
Good luck developing your mini-mentor network! Let me know how it goes, okay?