The Challenging Thing About Mentorship Is All of It

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Article takeaways:

  • Mentorship isn’t a walk in the park
  • Some steps to finding a mentor
  • No one reached their fullest potential in a vacuum

The word “mentorship” induces yawns, cringes and raised eyebrows, indicating that it may not be the thing we’d all rather dive into. It is the esoteric cherry-on-the-cake achievement for extroverted juniors and networking gold medallists, mentoring is something many would do, if they truly understood the long-term benefits.

My college peers and professors sprinkled in lukewarm encouragement to, ‘find a mentor’ when I graduated, but I didn’t quite know where to start. Was I supposed to march up to the author I stalk on Instagram after a high-powered luncheon and let her know that I bought her exact pair of Sam Edelman flats because it made her look like a powerful ballet dancer? Ask her to coffee? Mojitos? Do I write a 12-page manifesto on why she should mentor me?

Back then, mentorship was a word that symbolized the meaningful, professional relationships that help form and inform a career. It was about taking real, measured efforts to stay connected with those who had been floating in the treacherous waters of advertising long before us, and those entering after us. It was about forming friendships with people who had a unique perspective unlike our own; shaped by their personal decisions, failures, and successes.

As fate would have it, the minute my LinkedIn announced that I had graduated and snagged a coveted position at a data-driven New York City advertising agency, a coffee date invite from a college student hit my inbox. My heart did a happy dance. Real people wanted my advice! And I could give it!

Here’s the thing; mentorship is scary, in the same way, any other relationship is scary – we don’t want to come off needy, naive or socially inappropriate. And, mentor relationships take work, time and commitment – valuable resources we have already depleted. Like all relationships, mentorship is a hefty investment for all involved. A give and take.

So why do it?

Recently I participated in a panel discussion and coined the phrase, “radical mentorship” – a concept by which you eradicate all fear and doubt surrounding mentorship and dive straight into finding the mentor/mentee networks that will enrich your entire career journey.

First things first, radical mentorship is for everyone. Introvert, extrovert, ISFJ, ENTP, intern, CEO – everyone should be participating, and in their own way. Not everyone is a fan of attending speed-networking sessions, mumbling pleasantries in between crackers and lining their pockets with crafty business cards. You may meet your mentor/ee at the mandatory company fire drill or the boring reception buffet at your cousin’s wedding. Since they are anyone, you can meet them anywhere.

Make the first move. That means, think about how to bring value to the relationship. Really enamored with an executive’s opinionated LinkedIn post? Share that ASAP. Attended a dynamic panel with talented people you admire? Approach them afterward to say thank you. Don’t know what to say? Be genuine about it and keep it short. Radical authenticity is a good step towards radical mentorship.

Be yourself. Chemistry matters. You want to be learning from and/or teaching people who have similar interests. If your pithy, perfect emails are hitting a wall – don’t take it personally. Maybe that person is overwhelmed with their inbox and truly unavailable to invest in a new connection right now. That is OK. That email headline was still a Cannes-worthy gem.

Stay humble and pay it forward. Recognize that no matter how far up the ladder you climb, there will always be a younger, faster, version of you waiting to usurp your position. I say that with less doomsday prediction, and more precautionary realism. Be kind and generous. We can all learn something from everyone. You’d be surprised at how other people’s thoughts can change your perspective.

Do the things. Get on LinkedIn. Join that networking non-profit. Set up that early AM coffee. Hold out your hand. Tweet a compliment. Make it to that fundraiser. Write a congratulatory email. Action has the power to change the course of a relationship. Rather than mope about your lack of network, do something to change it.

And most importantly, realize this; no one reached their fullest potential in a vacuum. We are all a part of something greater than ourselves, connected by our passions, fears, aspirations and Mad Men dreams. In a fast-paced, whirlwind industry that is sometimes cruel in its nature, building a strong network of mentors and mentees confident enough to support and inspire each other is critical. Just go for it. How radical would that be?

Estie Wassner

Art Director at BARKER

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