Do You Need A Mentor?

In a variety of industries and circles, the concept of finding a mentor is gaining steam. An uncertain economy, hyper-niched areas of expertise and a Millennial generation (now the largest in the workforce) which values mentoring are likely contributing factors to its increased relevance.  Mentoring is not new by any stretch, but it does seem to come and go in its popularity, as well as its structure. So while it is having a renaissance right now, mentoring today doesn’t look the same as the days of mentoring past. We’ll cover this topic in some detail over the coming weeks, but in this post I want to dive into a fundamental question: do you need a mentor?

I’m not going to hold out on you; the answer to the question is no. You don’t “need” a mentor. For hundreds and thousands of years people have succeeded without a formal mentor. However, the question isn’t quite that simple. Because even for those who never had what we might consider a mentor, they were likely influenced and assisted by someone else. For example, nearly every recent president points to Abraham Lincoln as someone they look to for guidance and inspiration, though obviously they never met.

But it goes beyond that. Most of you would only consider your law school professor a mentor if you developed a one-on-one relationship with him/her outside the classroom. But what if all you did was attend the class, learn the material, pass the exam, make a decent grade and move on? Was your professor a mentor? I would argue yes, for the purposes of that subject matter. Merriam-Webster defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide,” as well as a “tutor, coach.” Would not a professor meet that definition, regardless of whether you ever met?

If we are to learn anything new, grow as professionals (or for that matter as people), and become the best version of ourselves, it is difficult to envision a way to do so without some version of a mentor. The good thing is that in 2017, mentorship comes in a variety of forms. You can read someone’s blog, listen to their podcast, watch their YouTube videos, follow them on SnapChat, Twitter and/or Instagram. You can read their books as people have done for decades, but now you can do so on your phone, or by listening to audio books. True you may never develop a personal relationship with these types of mentors, but you can access much of what you would in a one-on-one conversation through these mediums.

So do you need a mentor? If you want to develop and grow, I would say yes. Does it have to be someone you have a personal relationship with? I would say not at all. And if you think about it, most of us have a variety of mentors, including some we know personally (parents, professors, pastors, etc.) and others we don’t (authors, CEOs, TV hosts, etc.). Many times these break down further by subject area. You might go to your parents or pastor for guidance about a relationship issue with a colleague or friend, and might read about leadership from John Maxwell or Stephen Covey. Or perhaps you put all your mentorship/advice eggs in the Oprah basket (probably not the best approach!).

The next important question is how do we choose our mentors. We’ll address that in the next post, but in the meantime, take a personal inventory of who influences you. Be specific and write down their names, the subject area they guide you in, and whether or not it’s a personal relationship. Talk to you soon!


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