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Spoiler Alert!

It will involve reading.

“You need to find a mentor in your professional field” is advice that everyone will probably give you at least once in your lifetime. However, accessing them may not be as easy as one would anticipate.  That is why the author of Your Best Year Ever Michael Hyatt advocates for getting a virtual mentor.

A virtual mentor is a person that you may not readily access in-person access to but you follow his or her career trajectory and contextualise their guiding principles to your life situation in order to create your own success. 

As the former CEO and chairman of a leading publishing company and now an entrepreneur, Hyatt was always getting mentorship requests but he did not have the bandwidth to accommodate them all. It was quite clear to him that the demand for mentors clearly outweighs the supply. So he began his blog and podcasts so that he could be able to inspire and educate more people on leadership issues. He suggests that one should consider these eight levels of mentorship.

That said,  you would still like to reach out to your favourite trailblazer and interact with him or her. Your best bet for getting to know him or her better and to also avoid another bad question like “how did you get to where you are?” when you finally meet her is to do your research.  

Time and attention are today’s most valuable currencies. The value is even higher for female trailblazers who have to balance the demands of being in the limelight as well as their out of office responsibilities like family, friends and charity work.  Hence, they may not always be able to drop everything at the drop of a hat to handle your career existential crisis. In any case, good mentors don’t tell you what to do.

In her book Reach Out, Molly Beck says that one of the worst professional favours that you could ask is asking someone to become your mentor. “Mentoring is a relationship that develops over time. You can ask for specific advice to start,  but asking someone to be your mentor when you don’t know the person well is too much”

The best place to start is by to voraciously read her books and/or her blog where she communicates with the world. Reading a potential mentor’s published works, books, blogs and other forms of social media will show that help you decide how invested in getting them on to your personal board of directors. Yes, it may require a little bit a lot of time, money and (reading) effort on your part, but no guts, no glory. Not only will show that you have done your homework but it will also reduce chances of awkward small talk you connect both offline and online. Finding common ground with subjects of mutual interest will more likely naturally segue into connection building. You can access someone’s thoughts and ideas and maybe a bit of their personality through their writing.

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Another one that falls into the awful questions not to ask your potential mentor category  includes, “Can I pick your pick your brain?” Attempting to strike up a relationship with this question is like asking people for a free all-access pass consultation which can be insulting to the potential mentor. Like Michael Hyatt, writer and director of Start-Up Pregnant Sarah K. Peck calculated the number of hours she would have to trade her writing for “free” mentoring moments, over coffee. Sarah concluded that the 20 hours per week (using an average of 5-6 meetings per week) that she would have spent commuting, coordinating, follow-ups and eventually answering similar questions with different mentees, she would have written a whole book!

You can read her whole article here: Why I Say No to Meeting People For Coffee

In a similar vein, most successful people tend to invest their thoughts and efforts into writing books. Any mentor worth having will most likely put time and effort into the content that they share across all media like books, podcasts, videos, or even microblogging on IG. Though all these media forms help them build authority, books tend to a more long-lasting form of recording and disseminating one’s work, hence they seem to have become a form of business card in our era. Most conferences and training sessions cost thousands of shillings but reading a book will give you the opportunity to question the author’s point of view and will give you the opportunity to let the ideas percolate and give you room to form your own thoughts are around. Why not have a silent conversation with the author through annotations and marginalia so that when you encounter them in person or social media you will have valid reference points.

Some books may be above your level, but that does not mean that you should not give them a shot. Ryan Holiday provides a great starting point on how to address them. James Clear also shares his two cents on the matter.

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Having a mentor does not mean that you have an automatic sounding board. Rather, this should be a symbiotic relationship where you enrich each other. As a (potential) mentee you should find ways of making their lives easier so that you can also remain top of mind. Therefore, aside from reading the mentors own books, it would be advisable to read about people who have influenced them. In every industry, there are always those all-time influencers that everyone swears by, you should know them. By creating your personal syllabus you can be able to tailor the knowledge to suit your particular knowledge needs and better serve those around you including your potential mentor.

As James Clear says in this article…

Half of this year’s best-selling books are filled with ideas that may seem intelligent today, but will be proven wrong in the near future. Only a handful will still be read consistently a decade from now. These books—the ones that stand the test of time—are the ones you want to be reading because they are filled with ideas that last. This is why old books can provide incredible value.

Knowing your mentors’ influences then you will have an upper-hand and also bring something to the table.  Don’t be afraid to keep the relationship going by sending them referrals, interesting articles or even having an occasional catch-up to find out how you help them out. This does not have to be over a cup of java. It could even mean scheduling a 10-15 minute phone or Skype call.

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Having a virtual mentor will make you realise that it is easier to let go of things, people and beliefs much easier than you think. You will be more likely to give up the books that really do not interest you and focus on the ones that are more beneficial to you.You will know if you need to read the whole book to get the information that you need. Similarly, just because you get to know someone because of their great accomplishments does not mean that the said famous trailblazer will become your mentor.  Sometimes it is about picking specific lessons from that particular person and move on. Take what you need and leave the rest on the table.

Minimalist filmmaker Matt D’Avella claims to be the greatest fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He has read all his books and watched all his movies. Now he is on a mission to get The Rock on his podcast. He has gone to great lengths to make this happen including building a website just for this cause. Talk about sheer determination!

So what lengths are you will you to get a  mentor?

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Photo Credit: Pexels

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