It’s a common addage that no one can make it through life alone, and those that try fail epically. None of us are infallable, none of us have all of the answers and we are all going to need help at one point or another.
Beyond those points is the fact that everyone needs direction. Most of us innately know where we want to go (whether we realize it or not) but finding the strength, confidence and understanding to get set on the right path is another story all together. It’s important for all of us to have the understanding that someone else has almost undoubtedly been where we all currently are and have done something great in order to move forward. Seeking these people out and learning from them is what will perpetually keep us climbing the mountain rather than standing at the bottom and wondering how the hell the mountain got so high.
In the same right, no matter where we currently are in life there is always someone that wants to get closer to where we are; even if we feel like we are the ones that need to do the looking up. Helping someone else move forward will not only offer the opportunity to give another person a chance to get better, it offers each one of us a way to make our own lives fuller.
Having the opportunity to be a mentor is a great thing, but so is the opportunity to be mentored. The relationship becomes almost symbiotic, with each person in the relationship helping the other to grow (albeit in different ways). These are relationships we all need to seek out, both as a mentor and a mentoree. If we continually place ourselves in the middle of the chain, serving both as a mentor and a mentoree, we can ensure that we are making constant process. Being at either extreme end of the chain will certainly lead to a dull, less fulfilling and less successful life.
I like to think of the mentor relationship as being built on giant pillars. These pillars are the positive outcomes of the relationship, the specific behaviors that foster the relationship and the necessary elements that make the friendship work.
Although I’ve been the mentoree more frequently than the mentor, being one half of a great mentoring friendship on quite a few occasions has given the opportunity to gain a powerful perspective. Here are my pillars for a great mentoring relationship, both from the perspective of the mentor and the mentoree.
Caring: There’s an old saying that goes, “no one cares how much you know until the know how much you care.” We hear statements like this one so often and from so many different sources because they are undeniably true. Information doesn’t hold the same weight coming from someone that has no vested interest in our lives.
If you’re the mentor, just bombarding someone that looks up to you with information because “they should just listen to you”, makes about as much sense as a screendoor on a submarine. When someone seeks us out as a mentor we should be humbled and gracious. Another person has invited us into their lives out of respect and because they want to learn from someone that is farther along down the path. I don’t think there is a better reason to show someone that you care. Develop rapport by showing that you care then lend the information. It will be much better received.
However, this is a two way street. Being the mentoree doesn’t mean that the mentor should just show interest in you because you sought them out and wanted their help. It means that we, as mentorees, have to be all the more gracious by showing that we are not only interested and care about what our mentor says; but also care about them as people and what is going on in their life. Don’t be a drain, reciprocate.
We all need a certain amount of accountability in our lives, whether we are the mentor or the mentoree.
In the case of the mentor, giving someone deadlines, holding a person to high expectations and generally checking in with a person regularly can bring a necessary amount of structure to their life that may otherwise be absent. Providing structure can be the absolute difference between success and failure.
As a mentor, holding someone else accountable can also bring a certain accountability or structure to our own lives. Speaking from personal experience, I generally hold myself to a higher standard if someone else is counting on me. It is very easy to let things slide when we are only concerned with ourselves. But if we know that how we act (or fail to act) will impress or impose upon another person we hold ourselves to a higher standard. If we don’t we have failed someone else. Failing someone else can bring us more emotional strife than failing ourselves.
In the case of the mentoree, drawing structure and accountability from someone that is already “walking the walk” can greatly increase the chances of being successful. Knowing that someone you respect has high expectations of you will raise the expectations that you have for yourself. We all know that we rise to the level of expectation that is held for us, so it is important to have the bar set high if we want to accomplish all that we are capable of.
Stepping away from the mentoree view for a minute, this point is specifically for those that have the opportunity to be a mentor. Take five minutes and think back through the course your life has taken to get you to the exact point you are at right now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
How was the trip? Good I hope. Let’s stay in our nostalgic train of thought for just another minute.
As you traced the path up to the current point in your life did you notice all the people that showed up during the pivotal points in your life? The ones that gave you a piece of advice that helped you make the right decision or even the ones that gave you a place to stay when you otherwise would have been out on the street? How about the ones that gave you an opportunity when you didn’t think that there were any to be had? If you didn’t see these people as you searched your memory you are either lying to yourself or not thinking hard enough, because they are still there waiting to be remembered.
Without these people you may have never graduated high school, made it through college or made the changes necessary to be successful as an athlete. In most instances these people acted out of the goodness of their hearts because they remembered when they had been down and out or when they wanted something so badly that they thought about it every second of every day. They remembered that one time that that one guy pulled them aside and taught them how to squat the right way. Maybe it was the time that their high school football coach put his foot in their ass because their grades were shit. No matter what the circumstances, they saw your need and they took action.
We have an obligation to pay that generosity forward, for no reason other than we are all in this wild ride called life together. You’ve had a helping hand along the way and having the means to offer that same help to someone else isn’t only our obligation as people, it’s an honor.
So, the next time you have the opportunity to give someone advice (for free), pick someone up and dust them off and be a great mentor do it. But before you think about whats in it for you think about what has already been put in for you by others along the way.
Say Thank You:
If you’re the mentoree, pay close attention to the following message.
I’m only 25 years old and I’m about to go all “those damn young whipper snappers!” on you. There is something we all need to get through our heads. We are not entitled to a damn thing in this world. One of my good friends from high school had a favorite quote that states, “the only thing you deserve is what you earn.” Whether that is the first spot in line at the grocery store, the parking spot that we want or the car someone else has. Just because something exists it doesn’t mean that we innately deserve it, and it is a pretty big load of shit that people choose to think that way. Someone chose to help you not because you are entitled to guidance, but because they saw some redeeming quality that told them you were worthy. Don’t prove them wrong; earn your help and show that you appreciate it!
When someone extends a hand to you, offers advice or decides to take you under their wing, say thank you! They didn’t have to help you and their offer, even if unsolicited, was extended to make you a better person.
For those of you that have a mentor that cares enough to try to make you better, say thank you every chance you get. This needs to happen for two very big reasons.
1) They deserve it. There is nothing else to be said about that.
2) If people feel that their efforts are unappreciated it won’t be long until they lose interest in helping you.
For their sake, and for your own, say thank you.
Shut Up and Listen: There is nothing more off-putting, and annoying, than when someone asks for advice and then simply tries to turn the tables to show off how much they already know about a topic. When your mentor talks, just shut up and listen to what they have to say. In most cases, they’ve already been where you are now, they are where you want to be and they have a lot of life experience to offer up in the form of advice.
If you have the perspective that “you already know” you are going to miss out on a lot of valuable lessons. As one of my mentors advised me, keep the “beginner’s mindset.” You’ll be a clean slate in every new conversation about topics both old and new, helping you to learn and grow at a much faster rate.
Don’t already have a mentor? Get one. Having mentors for every important component of your life can help you tremendously. You’ll make some great friends, learn a lot more than you would have otherwise and grow at an alarming rate as a person.
Aren’t mentoring someone already. Do it. Your life will be richer for the cost and you will help someone that’s hungry for success get closer to reaching their goals. A lot of times this is more rewarding than achieving our own goals.
Live. Learn. Pay it forward.