December 14, 2009

How I find and learn from mentors

December 14, 2009 - Categories: connecting, learning

Would you be willing to describe in more detail how those relationships came to be, and how you’ve gone about fostering them?  Do you have any advice for someone looking for a mentor?

Duncan Mortimer

I don’t ask people, “Will you be my mentor?” People come forward when the time is right. So if you’re too shy to ask someone to mentor you, there’s hope! But you have to give them other reasons to step forward and care, and asking for help still helps.

How did I find my mentors? A university relations manager gave me advice on my thesis and on the company. I borrowed his books. He read my blog. I met an independent tech consultant at Toastmasters. I bumped into him again at tango. He joined my tea parties and talked to me about entrepreneurship. I tweeted about taking care of a stray cat. A friend offered a litter box. We chatted about business and life.

All my other mentoring relationships grew out of similar self-selected connections. I found my mentors through the questions I asked, the ideas I shared, and the relationships that grew from there.

What sparks that initial connection? Maybe it’s my passion. Maybe it’s the questions I ask. Maybe it’s the urge to share. The blog helps build those potential relationships to the point where people care enough about helping me grow that they’ll volunteer their insights. They can see my enthusiasm, what I want to do, and how they can help. I become a way for them to share what they’ve learned and make a bigger difference.

How do these mentoring relationships work? Mostly asynchronously, like much of my connecting. I like thinking things through by myself, and I’m comfortable sharing most of my thoughts on my blog. My mentors often read my blog, and they occasionally comment or bring it up during a discussion. It’s a great way to learn more. I read their blogs too, and I comment or mention it if I come across something that nudges my mind.

Many of my friendships are like that. We don’t get together often, but we’re peripherally aware of each other, and I consider them friends. Likewise, I don’t check in with all of my mentors regularly (hi Bernie!), but I continue to learn from what they share and feel grateful for their insights.

I seek out my mentors when I come across specific ideas I know they’ll want to explore too, or when the topic requires specific contextual knowledge not appropriate for the blog.

I also have regular chats set up with some of my mentors. I enjoy bringing people together over tea and biscuits, and I try to set those up often as well. I particularly like it when I can bring several mentors together with other friends. The conversations are fascinating, and I end up filling pages of notes.

Now my mentors introduce me to other people who are learning what I’m learning or who are interested in my passions, which makes the conversation even richer!