This post came out of a chat with accountability partner and all around awesome shenaniganist Creatrix Tiara so all credit to them for the idea.
But basically I was recounting a few mentoring ups and downs and times when people had deemed me an unofficial mentor and they said “You should write a post about that.”
And so here we are. Here are the things you need to be mindful of when you seek out a mentor.
1. Consent is imperative and a must have.
This is key for me, absolutely key for me.
There are many people who will try to do something for their desired mentor person as a favour and then having never even broached the subject will leave them in a situation where the reciprocity feels forced upon the mentor.
DO NOT DO THIS. You are treating them as an object or a means to an end rather than a person.
Even if you desire a very informal mentor-mentee relationship, it is always best to state up front AND get consent for such a relationship and what the boundaries are.
Merely stating it isn’t good enough, your mentor has to very readily and easily agree and consent to being in such a relationship and what it might entail.
This is in part about being mindful that people have varied limits on their time and energy to give you and may not be able to mentor you the way you need or want to be, part about making sure you don’t ruin any relationships you have with people and part about protecting you and making sure you don’t come across as manipulative or a user whatever your intentions might be.
DO NOT GO INTO THIS FLIPPANTLY OR TAKE IT LIGHTLY. How you conduct your relationships with people is important.
A mentorship is not a means of replicating an Old Boys Club type situation.
2. Namechecking or namedropping your mentor is a stupid thing to without consent.
This is important.
Unless your mentor has specifically agreed to be a referee for you beforehand, do not list them as a referee for jobs you apply for or for grants or anything else.
Again, consent is required in advance.
Part of this is because you do not know what circles and contexts your mentor operates in. You also do not know if they feel that they are ready to say that you do your work in a way that they feel comfortable endorsing.
Sometimes people have mentors for developing skills or a work practice. Those mentors (and anyone else who is a referee) have to be comfortable that your skills and practice have developed to a point where people know that you come highly recommended because they have been a reference.
If you then behave badly, that reflects poorly on them and is unfair to them, which is why consent for this too is key. Doing it after the fact is manipulative and unfair as you have already put them in a situation that they may not choose to be in.
3. It must be official even if it is unpaid.
This is useful whether it paid or unpaid, formal or informal. By official, I mean something with guidelines in place for how often you will chat, what you will discuss, and what the boundaries are.
Make them very clear and agree with them with the mentor. And then stick to them.
4. Always approach people directly and honestly.
People who don’t do so are people who are afraid of being told no or can’t handle being told no. Be someone who can handle rejection and a no.
But more importantly, chances are you admire someone as a potential mentor because they are doing ALL THE THINGS as it were.
In which case, they are immensely busy. So DO NOT BE RUDE and leave them hving to spend time and energy wondering if the favour you have just done them out of the blue comes with a side of implied reciprocity that they never agreed to or asked for.
They are not mind readers. Approach them directly and ask. They may say no if they have no time and energy to spare, no matter how much they may want to mentor you.
I read a comment once where someone said they target people by doing them favours and getting to know people that way so that they could call them mentors. That reeks of a lack of consent, forced reciprocity and social climbing and status seeking. Do not do this. Again if you do this, you are treating people as objects and not as real people.
5. Go in with a goal in mind
So say you have sorted out a mentor, you have consent, the mentor know that you want to be their mentee and you are going to the initial consultation or meeting.
Come with a clear intention or goal of what you want the mentor to help you with. If your goal is to know the mentor or call them your friend or namedrop them in future scenarios that is not on. That is status seeking.
I will talk about the idea of having an advocate in a future post that does something similar to a mentor but is someone who puts you forward for opportunities, again within an agreed upon relationship, once they are certain of your abilities and with boundaries etc.
It helps massively to have a clear intention or goal. At the initial meeting the mentor can then decide if they have the expertise required to get you where you want to be in terms of developing a skill or a work practice or achieving a goal.
They may decide that they do not have the knowledge and expertise to do this and this, again, is not a rejection of you. You are not entitled to people helping you. This is a duty of care. It would be a waste of your time and energy if they don’t know or can’t help you achieve your goal even if you chose them thinking that they could.
Having the goal helps a lot. A mentor cannot mentor you in everything under the sun. It is best to pick one area to work on at a time. It also helps you and the mentor formulate a plan of action for what you will do to achieve said goal.
6. Pick your mentor wisely
Again, many people have suddenly landed the title of being their mentor on me without my consent thinking it would be enough to flatter me. I am not easily flattered and not getting my consent annoys me. It presumes I am somehow stupid enough to be easily swayed by empty words. Don’t do this.
But the reason they do this is because they think I occupy a position where I have higher status and clout that they can benefit from somehow. Quite often they are let down by the reality.
Some mentors definitely can have high status and clout but that should not be the reason why you think that they will be good mentors. If you want to know how someone built a large following for example, you should find someone who built it from scratch and started at the level you are at, rather than someone who perhaps had other factors that helped that you don’t or won’t have access to.
For example, I have an awesome colleague who does very well on Patreon. I would love to learn how he does it except that he has been very clear about one thing: he had an edge because he had a fanbase before Patreon from when he wrote a column for a paper and when the column was killed in the paper he moved it to Patreon and the fanbase came with him so he had an edge and a previous platform that helped build a fanbase on Patreon for him almost immediately.
So awesome as it is, maybe he could teach me about reward systems or engaging with Patreons or how to get a column in a newspaper but I would need to find someone else who built a Patreon following from zero to learn how they did it, doing the kind of stuff that I do on Patreon. Likewise, how a visual artist does it on Patreon might be very different to how a writer or journalist would so it may make more sense to find out what works for a writer.
Sometimes it is about a specific skill. Do you want to be more organised? Maybe you know someone who has that skill down pat even though they are not where they may want to be or where you want to be in other ways – you can still learn about that skill from them.
Sometimes the people you want to learn from who are respected in their fields are not necessarily the ones with big names either and you would miss out if you only went after people that you felt had high status and that you felt therefore had succeeded. Success is very different for everyone and it may not look like what you think it looks like.
7. Honour & respect the nos.
Don’t push it. Sometimes the no is not about you, quite often it is because they don’t have the time, they don’t have the energy or they don’t have the expertise to take you on.
I tell people to have initial consultations with several different mentors and pick who they vibe with the most. It doesn’t have to be me.
I also set limits for who I work with, for how much, for how many people I work with etc.
And if you are pushy or don’t ask for consent, expect a no. Respect boundaries. Respect a no.
8. You can have more than one mentor but not for one thing.
That may just lead you to a lot of confusion. Have each mentor for a different part of your work or life. Make those boundaries very clear. Treat them all with respect.
Mentors usually help you develop a plan for the area you want to work on and if you have two mentors for one area you will have two plans and your efforts will be scattered.
And don’t play favourites. I don’t need to hear empty flattery about how I am the best mentor you have etc. I am not interested in that.
9. Mentors are not here to validate you.
I have had people ask me for validation that what they are doing is right. That is not my role as a mentor at all.
Mentors don’t offer get out of jail free passes on your actions and choices. We can advise and guide but agency and responsibility for what you do is on you and you alone. You are an adult.
Mentors can offer guidance on particular areas but the ultimate responsibility is always yours. We are not parents or guardians.
My question is always: “can you truly say you have acted with integrity, that you have been kind and ethical, that you have genuinely considered others and taken a long and hard honest look at yourself?”
10. Mentors aren’t counsellors, teachers or trainers
We advise and we guide. You may learn something sure but we aren’t training or teaching you things. What you learn is dependent on your plan, your questions and how you persevere with your goals. We are sounding boards and can answer questions and provide context and accountability. We can tell you of possible pathways and options for what you want to achieve. You are using our experience and knowledge to make informed choices.
But I can’t counsel you. I can’t advocate for you. I can’t teach or train you. At least not when I am in a mentor-mentee relationship with you.
Still want a brilliant mentor?
I offer mentoring on aspects of journalism, writing, publishing and freelancing. If you want to improve in some area related to this, consider booking a free consultation with me to see if we are a good fit.
I only take on a certain amount of mentoring clients at a time and people book me for varied durations of projects so create a goal/plan for what you want to work on and get in fast.