I've been really fortunate to have some amazing mentors in my life. People who were and are generous with their wisdom, who weren't afraid to lovingly call me out when I needed it, who didn't laugh at my crazy, outlandish dreams, and who checked their ego in order to cheer me on.
I am a firm believer that we should be lifelong learners and that we all — at any age — should have a mentor (or several) in our life, especially if we are in a position of leadership and mentoring others ourselves. Here are seven things I've learned over the years about selecting a mentor. It is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few things that come to mind as I write this:
1. No mentor is one size fits all and it's fine to have different mentors for different areas of your life.
Some people may kill it in business, but have a parenting style you'd rather not emulate. Some may have a marriage relationship you want to learn from but have a managerial approach you don't care for. If you're looking for people who are perfect in all areas of life or work, you will end up navigating life alone.
2. A good mentor will value healthy conflict resolution and will encourage you to voice your truth.
Effective leaders use healthy communication to work through conflict. Cowards use the silent treatment to dissolve relationships. While no one is perfect in every area, conflict — large, small, exaggerated, or imagined — crops up in every part of life and a good mentor is willing to do the hard work of peacemaking. They won’t push you to sugarcoat reality or to sweep things under the rug and they won't model that in their own life.
3. A good mentor will be committed to helping shape you into the best version of yourself, not a mini-me of themselves.
"Do it just like me!" is rarely in a mentor's vocabulary. A great mentor will give you the space to be yourself yet will push you out of your comfort zone. Extroverts who insist extraversion is the only way to do life won’t be a good mentor to introverts. Extroverted mentors give introverts space to recharge, recognizing that for an introvert, alone time is life-giving and provides the needed capacity to be effective in interpersonal relationships. Likewise, introverts realize that extroverts need more activities and opportunities to socialize as they draw their energy from other people. A good mentor helps you create the margin you need, not necessarily the margin they need.
4. A good mentor will recognize that different seasons of your life require different priorities.
For a long time, "go big or go home" was a mantra that worked for me. These days when I hear that phrase, my first reaction is, "home, please" and I have made embracing the joy of missing out (JOMO) a top priority. Acknowledging that different seasons bring different priorities is healthy; not just for you, but for your family and friends as well.
5. Some mentors are a good fit for a season, some for a lifetime.
It's okay to recognize when you have outgrown what a particular mentor has to offer you. This doesn't mean they or you have stopped learning, but rather that you are now on different paths. This also doesn't mean that you need to end every aspect of your relationship with them, just that the mentorship part has reached a point of closure.
6. A good mentor should have similar values as you.
It’s okay if they don’t match exactly, and you may be passionate about different things. One of my mentors is passionate about animal rights and, while I feel this issue is important, my passions are very specifically orphan care and issues of systemic poverty. What matters to me is not whether we champion or donate to the same causes, but that we’re both interested in the world beyond the end of our driveways — that I’m not choosing to be mentored by someone who is solely interested in using all their resources to make their own life better in the name of “looking out for number one.”
7. Choose a mentor based on who they are offline rather than on how put together their life looks on social media.
Instagram is typically a (heavily edited, well curated) snapshot of singular life moments, not a portrait of real life as a whole. On the other side of the coin, oversharing via social media is typically a red flag signaling deeper issues and is rarely an indicator of healthy transparency. Not allowing strangers to have access to every part of one's life does not make someone any less authentic. Choosing a mentor should never be based solely on what you see online.
Originally published May 2015