“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18
A question that always comes up when I discuss mentoring is “where do I find one?” That question gets asked universally – in America, in Africa, everywhere. Part of the reason that a simple question is asked frequently is that the process of mentoring has largely dropped out of our cultures. In America, the process of mentoring was part of our teaching model until the middle of the last century – most professions had internships or apprenticeships which required students to work side by side a more experienced professional. The only profession that I know that still retains this is the medical profession, where young doctors have to do internships – usually at hospitals – to learn practical aspects of being a doctor. They actually grow and learn by actually doing procedures under watchful eye of a more experienced resident. The legal profession also used the process for many years where a graduate from a law school had to spend at least one year doing an apprenticeship in a law firm before he was actually admitted to the Bar and able to practice on his own. New Jersey is the only state that still has this program, but when I recently looked into it, I found that the program has been watered down and it is no longer an absolute requirement.
As a consequence, the idea of mentoring has largely been eliminated from the consciousness of our culture. Some professions and businesses have now recognized its importance and have promoted mentoring – the North Carolina Bar Association is one that has encouraged older lawyers to accept younger lawyers – not even in their own law firms – to become mentors. I’m glad to see these initiatives, and more are needed.
Today’s post is for everyone – young and old alike. For the younger person – the next generation or the millennials – it will offer some practical suggestions to help you become a “fisher of mentors” to coin a phrase similar to what Jesus told the disciples that he would make them a “fisher of men”. To the more mature out there – this is a reminder that the vast majority of the next generation are looking for a mentor – you, in fact, although you may not know it.
But to a millennial – someone in the next generation who would jump at the chance of having someone who he admires speak into his life – he or she are on their own because it is rare to find the few actual potential mentors who are proactively looking for someone to mentor. It is not the norm – people who have life experiences to share with others just aren’t out there looking for young people to pour themselves into. So, the question is, how do we address this? I thought I would offer some practical tips to someone who wants a mentor to come to them, but since that is not happening, what should they do. Here are six suggestions:
- There is no perfect mentor for all seasons of your life. As you grow, your needs and challenges change. Your challenges as a single person starting out in the workplace is very different from someone married with 2 young children. The need for new mentors may change over time when your current mentoring relationship has matured.
- Be Intentional, but be discrete. Sometimes just using the word “mentor” can be a barrier. It is often misunderstood because of our cultures lack of familiarity with it. If you identify someone who you would consider a good mentor, you might be better off just developing a relationship by meeting together periodically and then strengthening the relationship by asking if it were possible to meet on a regular basis because you enjoy your time together. For the record, with only a couple of exceptions, I don’t use the “mentor” in our conversations. It’s really not necessary. The relationship is the important thing, not the label.
- Be Intentional. Once you have developed a relationship with a mentor, you will need to grant them permission to speak into your life. Schedule regular meetings of coffees, breakfasts or lunches that are convenient to you. My peer mentor group meets once a week, every week, schedules permitting. We’ve changed the venue over the past 24 years based on mutual convenience. Map out a course – just sitting down and having someone ask you “How’s life?” does not count. Ask what books you should read. What things in your life do you want to be held accountable? Agree on mutual expectations – those that you have of yourself and of your mentor (that will probably come as a surprise to him).
- Be A Fisherman. Good mentors are not out looking for you. You would be deluding yourself if you think otherwise. Almost by definition, the good mentors are busy with their jobs, their families, and other obligations. You are not on their radar screen. As someone else said, “you need to jump into their river and let them show you life on their terms.” In fishing, you don’t always catch a fish on every cast. Be prepared to throw out your line to more than one candidate.
- Consider your peers. Not all mentors are older than you. They may contemporaries who have experiences that you don’t have. You can learn from someone younger. Some of the best ideas I’ve had came from younger people or someone my own age who has a totally different set of life experiences.
- Have a strategy. Consider those around you who you think could you help be the best you can be at your current life station. Every mentor, either man or woman, doesn’t have all the answers for your needs. In fact, mentors often don’t have the answers, but they can ask probing questions to help you figure things out for yourself.
The challenge here is help you engage in a mentoring relationship in a culture where mentoring has disappeared from our consciousness. If you are a millennial, my question to you is this: Are you actively seeking a mentor? If so, what is your strategy to find someone who appropriately can speak into your life and help you along the way? On the other hand, if you are someone who could mentor others, I would challenge you to raise your consciousness to the great need for people like you to “pass it on” to the next generation. I challenge you to be proactive in looking for someone to mentor. As the MasterCard ad suggests, your willingness to invest in someone else’s life is Priceless.