How To: Find a Mentor

Today’s Mentor Monday post comes from my friend Ryan Knapp.  After reading this post, check out his blog to find out more about him.

Photo cred: Kathy a.k.a. "K"

In 2006 I went from a PhD program in Linguistics to becoming a President/Owner of a minor-league soccer club (quite the life change, right?).  Thrust into my new position, one of the first things I did was make a list of what I needed to be successful.  Right below ‘make loads of $$’ and just above ‘hire an assistant’ I had scribbled ‘Find a Mentor’.

So I Googled, “Find a Mentor” and after reading 10 posts about why a mentor is so important and how to find a mentor in 5 steps (or for $29.99) I had a silent freak out moment,

“Oh God, I DON’T have a mentor…what do I do? Where do I start? and HOW do I find one?”

My previous life in academia I was lucky enough to have been ‘given’ three amazing mentors, or advisers as they are more commonly called.  I know many college students who are stuck with an adviser they despise, but my adviser in High School and my two advisers in College (Dr. Jeri Jaeger and Dr. Wolfgang Wölck) are/were incredible mentors and friends, but I never had to venture further than down the hall to find them.

For the first time in my life I was stuck finding a mentor on my own, and I had no clue.

So I took up an industrious approach and searched out potential mentors and read their bios and scrutinized as if I was interviewing them for a job to work with me.  “Nope, too young.  Nope, not in my field.” Lo and behold I came up empty.

However, after a few months of my failed mentor search I realized something — finding a mentor isn’t about trying to find a mentor at all.

Finding a mentor comes from forming quality connections and relationships with new people without a set outcome in mind.  Using this approach opens up a world of possibilities and you view mentorship in a completely different context.  The ‘search’ becomes unnecessary and your focus shifts to a productive two-way relationship with both give and take.

From the get-go you may have been looking for a big-shot in your field to be your mentor, but just because someone isn’t a big shot means they have less to give you.  Maybe you are a business focused person but your mentor might be someone who is an artist but can show you 1001 different ways to look at a situation.

I have been lucky enough to find two incredible mentors who have been instrumental in my growth professionally and personally.  Both Kiko Suarez and Keith Burtis became my mentors during transitions in my life, and they helped me get to where I am today, and are helping me reach where I’ll be tomorrow.

So, if you do not have a mentor but you are looking, don’t fret.  Put yourself out there and keep on making connections and meeting new people.  The beauty about our world is that your mentor could be someone half way around the world, a group of people, or you might become a mentor to someone in the process.

How did you find your mentor?  Were you looking, or did it just happen?

4 thoughts on “How To: Find a Mentor

  1. Ryan,

    This advice really spot on, and I love how you shared your path to coming to this realization. I’ve heard of people that found their mentors by simply going up to a professional they’ve never met before, and asking them. Sydney Owen has a funny story about that if I remember correctly.

    Ultimately, a true mentorship probably won’t develop from you seeking one out and asking. It’s usually a much more natural development that occurs much like a friendship. You just “click” with someone and the mentorship develops on it’s own.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for letting me post David.

    The natural development is exactly what happens. You go from a connection, to a friendship then to a mentor type relationship.

    When writing the post I wanted to touch on that. Similar to when you are ‘dating’ someone but then they become your significant other? It just kinda happens at some point.

  3. Great thoughts here Ryan and I agree with your approach. However, I also know there are people out there who need help with specific projects or career guidance. For those people, there are places they can go to get that help.

    PRSA’s College of Fellows, comprised of just over 300 senior professionals, has a program where those in need of mentoring are matched based on the needs of the protege.

    I’ve been working with a great young pro for about 5 years now and it’s wonderful to see her grow. The best part for me is that the relationship is mutual and we find ourselves helping each other which is the most fulfilling part of mentoring for me.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Mary. I agree that there are people that need help with specific projects and guidance. For that I wouldn’t recommend this type of approach, especially if you want to get something done soon.

      I’m in this position right now. I’m starting a business and needed advice, so I reached out to the Small Business Administration in my area as well as some others who specifically focus on small business. That way I can get my questions answered and ‘move on’ so to say.

      Great to hear you are mentoring someone and you hit it on the head with ‘the relationship is mutual’.

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