I never gave much thought to the need for having a mentor – I just assumed my manager would fulfil that role. But your manager’s responsibilities, and interests, as well as availability, do not always extend to providing that structured support. And even if they do, there is no rule to say that you must be limited to one inspiring role model in your life.
Sheryl Sandberg’s advice in Lean In about being clear about what you want/need from a mentor stuck firmly in my mind – you can’t just expect a Prince/Princess Charming to come along to make everything better. I had no idea what I wanted from my career, or from a mentor, I just wanted someone else to tell me what to do. So I kept reading, and going to networking events, and using my podcasts as mentor replacements. I did seek out the company of inspiring females, but I didn’t go so far as to ask them to take on that mentoring role as I felt I wasn’t clear enough in what I wanted from them just yet.
To my surprise and delight I was actually asked to be someone else’s mentor last year – I was immediately proud and terrified as I didn’t want to let them down. Cue more research – and I found Starr Consulting’s book and associated supporting material. This helped to give me the structure to approach the mentoring sessions, as I aimed to park my nervousness and ignore the roar of the Impostor Syndrome in my head. I learned a lot from those sessions – it helped me to realise that all my sideways movements in my career were not actually a waste of time, but that instead I now had a broad range of experience to draw from and to share with others.
I have since sought out a mentor, and asked for structured sessions – surprisingly for me, it’s turned out to be a male mentor! I’d always assumed I needed a female role model – and I do – but there is also a lot for me to gain from a male perspective. More importantly, there’s a lot for me to gain from someone who has the right wisdom and experience to support me in my career. And I’m still not exactly clear on what I want to do – so don’t wait until you’re 100% clear, because that may never happen – just seek out support, start having the conversations, and the right questions (and answers) will start to form. Just don’t expect them to magically solve everything – mentors don’t have magic wands!