Finding a Personal Mentor
A wise, trusted advisor can foster personal success and help you avoid disaster.
Posted May 04, 2019
The Homeric Odyssey mentions a character named Mentor. He was the mythological son of Alcimus and was considered very wise. The hero of the Odyssey was of course Odysseus. When he reluctantly left to fight in the Trojan War (the war of the Iliad), he gave Mentor the responsibility of advising and watching over his son and heir, Telemachus. Today, Mentor’s name has come to mean "a wise and trusted advisor." Finding a mentor to help guide you, especially early in your personal or professional life can be the difference between great happiness and achievement and mediocrity, even failure. A mentor can be key to navigating major life transitions successfully.
THE POWER OF THE MENTOR
Research in developmental psychology has shown that having a mentor is a key element in rising above developmental adversity. Dr. E. E. Werner conducted a 40-year longitudinal study of all children born on Kauai in the year 1955. One third were at high risk from developmental adversity, yet one third of those were doing well decades later. The influence of a mentor seemed to be most associated with their success. In her article "The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society," psychologist Dr Alice Miller argues that if those who have experienced trauma or extreme adversity have at least one person who can serve as an “enlightened helper” or confidant, the negative effects of such experiences can be greatly reduced.
Similarly, meta-analytic research has shown that having a mentor is the single most powerful factor in human resilience. We see the powerfully positive effects of both formal and informal mentorship in academics, athletics, personal, and even business development and success. My own experiences studying highly successful and resilient people revealed the power of having a wise and trusted advisor. Keith Ferrazzi’s book Who’s Got Your Back? presents a compelling argument for the power of establishing a trusted inner circle of people upon whom you can rely and trust to guide you. He argues that to promote accomplishment and navigate through adversity it is essential to find trusted relationships that won’t let you fail.
Mentors can be athletic coaches, teachers, family members, supervisors, even professional career and lifestyle coaches. One approach to career and lifestyle counseling is referred to as the "mentorship model," wherein the counselor assumes the role of a “process mentor” using Socratic dialogue to guide clients through important developmental, career, and even personal decisions. The counselor may also encourage the person to seek out "content or technical mentors."
FINDING A MENTOR
Successful mentoring relationships are built upon finding a good match between you and the mentor. You will want to seek not just any mentor, but that special person who is best suited to your needs and personality. While that is to be determined on a case-by-case basis, it seems that competition to find the right mentor can be intense. What factors attract mentors? I’m sure there are many, but these are the factors I’ve seen to be most effective.
1. Optimism – There are few things that are more interpersonally attractive than optimism. It’s magnetic.
2. Initiative – Be a self-starter who is not afraid of rejection or failure. Often you will have to approach the prospective mentor.
3. Humility – Enter the relationship with an attitude of respect, humility, and gratitude. Leave your participation trophies home. Mentors are not interested in entitled expectations.
4. Reliability – Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.
5. Responsibility – Forget your book of excuses. The best mentors don’t want excuses. Take responsibility for your actions. When failure strikes, own it and seek guidance on how to correct the problems.
6. Tenacity – This quality is a powerful predictor of human resilience and success.
The reader will see these characteristics greatly overlap with those I’ve previously described as “unforgettable.” This is no coincidence. Attracting the best mentor often means making yourself unforgettable.
© George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, 2019