Why everyone needs a mentor
A couple of months ago I wrote a blog about working with Gen Ys.
Originally, I had intended to write about mentors but somehow my blog morphed into a more theoretical piece.
Now, as the year reaches a close, it seems fitting that I now write my blog about mentors.
I hope that my blog will inspire you to take a young person under your wing and teach them what you know; we have so much to learn from you.
This is more of an open letter of thanks to the people who inspire and mentor the next generation of workers.
Let me begin with a metaphor.
I think of a career like a road. It’s a long road and, like so many good journeys, the beauty is in the travelling, more than the destination.
It’s also a rocky road with mountains, pot holes and unexpected turns.
But it’s not a road that you need to, or indeed, should, take alone.
Learn from the people who have already walked before you. Let them help you climb the mountains, give you a hand up out of the pot holes and help you get back on track when things take an unexpected turn.
Let them be your mentor.
What is a mentor?
According to the dictionary, a mentor is ‘an experienced and trusted adviser.’
The word actually has its origin in Greek Mythology, with Mentor a character in The Odyssey… but I digress.
Generally speaking, a mentor is someone who is more experienced than you and who shares with you their knowledge and wisdom.
They may be your manager, former boss, family friend or someone you met serendipitously… in my case I met my mentor at Questacon, many years ago.
Here are my five reasons why mentors are important:
1. They teach you what university doesn’t
University can only teach you so much. It gives us theoretical knowledge and, if we’re lucky, some practical work experience but it still leaves a gaping big hole.
When I started my first ‘real’ job, I often wished that there had been a course on how to send emails correctly, or how to answer the office phone in the best manner, or in particular, how to network.
Mentors can help to teach us these things that university didn’t. It’s amazing how much you learn by having someone read over an email before you send it, or have someone politely tell you need to slow down on the phone (I’m working on this).
2. They’ve been there
Mentors will often understand where you’re coming from, even more so than your friends or family, because they’ve been there themselves.
When it comes to work, your usual support networks may not have the experience or expertise to advise you. This is where a mentor is invaluable.
3. They can help you see the big picture
Mentors are unbeatable when it comes to career advice. They are great at helping you see where it is you want to be and how you can get there.
When you’re young and just starting your career, people often use the phrase “the world is your oyster”. It’s meant to be encouraging but honestly, the term can be pretty overwhelming.
Where do you start?
Your mentor has been there and they can help you create your own path out of the infinite choices available.
4. You can ask the ‘silly’ questions
I know that people often say ‘there’s no such thing as a silly question’. But sometimes you really do feel silly asking some questions, such as is it better to use ‘kind regards’ or ‘sincerely’ when signing off on an email? A trusted mentor is someone to who you can ask these ‘silly’ questions.
5. They make you ask the hard questions
Mentors can help you ask the hard questions that you know you should ask yourself but would much rather not. They help you to hold a mirror to yourself and to judge whether you really are putting in your best effort.
When it comes to self-improvement, you don’t need someone who holds your hand and tells you good enough is fine. You want someone who is honest and will make sure that you’re honest with yourself.
I’m lucky in that I have a number of people who I have the honour of calling my mentors. I know that I simply wouldn’t be the same person without their guidance, support and their belief in me.
So why is this an open letter?
To all the managers who take us under their wing and help us to reach our full potential, thank you.
To the strong role models who teach us what it means to work hard, have discipline and believe in ourselves, thank you.
To the people who teach us to learn from our mistakes, rather than punish us for them, thank you.
To all the mentors out there, helping Gen Y to find our feet.
Thank you for all of your past, present and future support.
28 November, 2017