How I find and learn from mentors

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!

  • I enjoyed your insights on mentorship Sacha. I seem to be coming across this topic quite frequently lately. Early in my career I connected with mentors somewhat informally, like you seem to have–and it worked well. This year for the first time, I had a specific challenge and became more intentional about my search for a mentor with particular experience. It took me three months of focused networking on-line and at events to find my current mentor–but the results have been worth it. I would recommend to anyone dealing with significant career or life issues, to draw on the wisdom of someone who is further along the path.

  • Jeremy, thanks for commenting, and for sharing career tips on your blog! =)

    There are specific things I’d like to learn, too, and I’ve been very happy with my experiment of hiring experienced freelancers on sites like oDesk to coach me on specific skills. It might be something to explore.

    I’m also keeping an eye out for potential mentors for areas I don’t have mentoring relationships in yet. For example, I’d love to meet someone who’s got awesome work-life balance in a large corporation. I’m happy with my situation, but I’d love to get a sneak preview of career or life changes and how to deal with them! =) People know the kinds of mentors I’m looking for, so I get referrals occasionally.

    I’m looking forward to mentoring other people myself! I help a number of people at work with Drupal, and I’d love to explore other topics as well.