Ahhh, the elusive mentor. Actually, it’s more like the famous mentor. Also can be known as the “in demand mentor”.
When I started working, I was on the hunt for a mentor. I wanted someone who not only I could look up to, but from whom I could learn from; who would guide down the correct career path.
One of my greatest frustrations with my current job is the lack of having a mentor. See, ever since graduating from college, where I had this incredible academic career, full of amazing education and professors that I not only respected, but looked up to, I’ve been hunting for a mentor.
Every job I’ve ever worked has left me feeling a bit deflated about ever finding a mentor. I’ve had such high expectations in all of my bosses that I’ve often been left disappointed when I’ve found out they were not mentor material nor realistic.
I thought I had found him/her when I started working at my current 9-t0-5, but I didn’t and I had to deal with the anger and the emotions that came with it and eventually led to having a low morale for the work I do and my career. However, in all of that, I have found other mentors, but they are mentors in another way. They are people who inspire me to be better and to keep going after my dreams and aspirations.
One of those mentors is someone I call my BFFI (Infinite BFF). He’s definitely inspired me with his work ethic, but what really inspires me with is his open-mindedness. I think I’m a fairly open-minded person, but Mark, well, Mark IS open-minded. He’s the definition of it. He can speak (and sing in!) Japanese, English and Spanish fluently. He dances like no other. He travels with amazing abandon and zest and he constantly reminds me that “today, I have the ability to make great things happen if I choose to move past the small things that are bothering me”. He’s incredibly inspiring.
My second mentor is my coworker, the same one who I wrote about yesterday, who although frustrates me sometimes, reminds me that being fair and not so hot-headed is worth developing and practicing. In the past four years, I’ve watched her grow and change in ways that have inspired my own growth. We know that I’m always going to be true to Sara, but having someone close to me grow has helped shift my perspective.
The two above are personal growth mentors. Which is a good thing to have (I don’t have to pay for a life coach with the two above plus all the other amazing friends I have), but they aren’t helping my career path. Well, actually they are, but that’s because I’m going after my own career path. I’m now chasing my dream and that happens to be the path of my career. Which is super and amazing, but what about all the people out there still seeking a mentor to call their own?
Well, I have a bit more of a cynical, but hopeful take on this. I don’t believe that they can or will ever find a mentor until real leaders start to show their faces around not just in business, but the world in general. I firmly believe that the world is missing genuinely good leaders. Whether they are good, or bad (take a President or Prime Minster, who may have to choose war over peace) the world is hungry for leadership that is exactly that, leadership. Not dictatorship. Not tyranny. Not the kind that is micro-managing. The kind that is challenging and engaging. The kind that is open, honest, and changing. The kind that is also intelligent. The kind that requires that everyone else around them be intelligent, too. The kind that is trusting. Finding leadership like this is so far and few in between, especially when you consider economic, social and cultural issues, and rampant distrust, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Actually, I think it’s in the next wave of entrepreneurs. Once they develop their businesses and hire employees, they will create nurturing and inspiring environments for people of all backgrounds.
These are the entrepreneurs not just focused on wealth and money, but focused on creating products that are built on awareness. On the idea that “Everything touches Everything” (Thanks, Borges!). On the same idea that doing transparent business that educates and is good for the environment and the people is not far fetched and definitely not an after thought. That also considers the environment and the employees/individuals in other countries (where they get pieces of their product from or who do the actual assembly) as stakeholders as well as entities that have the same basic right to respect and a good, happy, and healthy existence as vital to their own business and personal development and growth.
I know, I know. I sound like a crazy hippy. I kind of am. I’m a creative type, even in my Type-A-ness.
What I’ve realized is that I’ve not only been searching for a mentor, I’ve been looking for a job that inspires me to be a better and greater person through my work. Not a bad thing. Some thing else I believe is that while we all want to be comfortable and successful lives, we also want lives with meaning. How we go about finding and making that meaning is different as we are each unique and different individuals, but it runs through us like the blood in our veins.
Which is why I’ve stopped looking and started creating!
Now, instead of looking and seeking a mentor, I’ve been able to construct the idea of the mentor I want to be for others and for myself as well as the work environment I would like to have one day when my shop is not just a space in my apartment and I have employees, maybe even just one. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without my lack of a mentor and my jobs. In fact, while I haven’t been able to find the boss that is my mentor, I’ve discovered that my jobs have actually been my mentor. They have each, inspired actions that I have taken with my own business. I can not even begin to express how grateful I am to have that knowledge alone. Furthermore, it shows me that every step of the way, all the unhappiness and unfulfilling jobs have not been in vain. They have all been huge in the development of my desires as I cobble together this stationery company.
So what about finding a mentor?
Well, here’s the funny thing – it would seem as though I have found little pieces of mentor in the people who surround me. What I mean is that while I’m focused on becoming a mentor that I would want in myself, I’ve also surrounded myself by people who help me piece that constantly. I realized this Tuesday evening as I sat in my printers office, counting and recounting seating and escort cards for an order they completed that day. Patty, my printer, was super patient and even counted the cards herself to see that I wasn’t just off on my counting. She then printed the files for me to use to check against and we found the two missing cards. It was a late night for her and her husband and the shop, but as we fixed the problem and chatted about life I realized that she is a piece of my mentor search. She’s someone who knows her stuff, is strong-willed and tough, but not too tough. She took me to dinner, even after I protested and told her I should be taking HER to dinner. As we sat at dinner, we talked about printing and teaching and she said to me, “you know Sara, I help you because you want to learn. Because I show you what you did wrong and you watch me and you fix it the next time you bring something in for me to print.” That’s hardly the best compliment I’ve ever been told, but when you compare it to being told, “there’s no room for you to sit at the table during the meeting, but you can sit in a chair in the corner, if you want”- it’s encouraging, supportive, and helpful.
It is why I’d rather sit in the print shop and watch Patty work her magic than sit at my own desk and work. I’m learning! I’m being nurtured and engaged about stuff in my industry! I’ll take that same lesson and share it with someone else because I believe when we educate people, we give them freedom to take something and turn it into their own. As a result you, the teacher, are rewarded in appreciation and sometimes even loyalty and commitment. That’s what a leader and mentor does.
While I would not categorize Patty as the “mentor” I’ve spent the past 9 years seeking, I have definitely found something in her that is what I’ve been looking for and I’m so glad I have, too. I’ve got a lot to learn from her and I’m excited for the experience and for what she can and will show me. I’m also excited to see how I use that information to mentor myself and others.
I guess what I’m saying is to not give up looking for your mentor, but be open to learning bits and pieces from lots of different people. Then use that to build yourself a mentor within that shines through and inspires others, even if it is in just some small way. That small way will undoubtedly start something much larger.