So You Haven’t Found a Mentor

Self-mentoring has advantages over a mentor

Posted May 30, 2014

Have you hoped to find a mentor—perhaps at college, graduate school, or at work?

Many people go through life never really finding a mentor. As with many things, it may ultimately be safest to rely on yourself, to be your own mentor, for example, consulting Google as needed and reaching out to the right person to help with your question du jour.

Self-mentoring's advantages

In some ways, self-mentoring can be better than having an ongoing mentor:

  • It’s faster. The internet is available instantly, 24/7.
  • It’s more empowering. The more control you retain, the more you feel you’re efficacious, that you can handle what life throws at you.
  • It’s often more effective. The combination of Google (and associated searches, for example, of your professional association’s website and forums) contains more expertise than any single mentor could provide, especially regarding a particular question. For example, let’s say you’d like feedback on how well you’re managing. Start by querying Google on “management tips.” Perhaps supplement by asking a respected manager in or outside your organization to watch you, for example, running a meeting.

Surgeon Atul Gawande hired a top surgeon to watch him in action. Sure, that exposed Atul's weaknesses before the nurses in the operating room, but he was secure enough to realize that price was small relative to the benefit to patients and to his confidence.

How to be your own mentor

1. Decide what you need mentoring in:

  • Feedback on some aspect of your work: writing, coaching, building, diagnosing, whatever?
  • Guidance on how to build on a strength? For example, where to use your ability to stay calm under pressure.
  • Help in mitigating a weakness? For example, let’s say you’re shy and introverted. You may not realize that you could be effective even as a politician or in sales. On my radio program, Mark Leibovich, a true Washington Insider, said that many politicians are shy. And I, for one, would rather deal with an introverted salesperson than some glad-hander who won’t shut up and listen.

2. Go to Google. We take Google-search for granted because it’s free and so accessible but when you stop to think about it, it harnesses so much of the world’s expertise.

If you’re not great at Google searching, try one of these. I found them using a Google search on the term “better google query results”:


3. Query a person.  Who’d be the perfect person to answer your question: Someone you know or someone you’d identify from a Google search and then email?

Of course, they may not answer you but often enough they will. It doesn’t cost you anything to try. And if you’re worried about imposing, remember that many people enjoy strutting their stuff. If they choose to respond, it means they find it worthwhile. Every day, I get a number of requests for free advice and if I feel I have a useful answer that doesn’t take much time, I answer them. It’s part of my pro bono work and besides, it feels good to be helpful.

4. Pay it forward. Promise yourself that you’ll respond to people’s reasonable requests for help. Indeed, you might even preempt and pay it forward: Offer to provide help to someone you think will appreciate it.

Self-mentoring as empowerment.

The lack of a mentor can make one feel unworthy or inefficacious. I hope this article reminds us that we may have more efficacy and control over our situation than we might think.

The Wikipedia entry on Marty Nemko tells you too much about him.