August 19, 2016
When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
People who you want as mentors don’t want to view themselves as pro-bono life coaches. So what to do?
While it is commonly believed that in order to find someone who will mentor you, you can simply ask the direct question: "Will you be my mentor?" This is not the best approach.
Asking someone if they will be your formal mentor is like saying, "Hey, do you want to sign up for an unpaid, part-time job because you have so much free time?"
When it comes to finding a mentor or a teacher in real life, whether you're seeking career guidance, starting a company, or working on mastering a craft, it's important to consider your approach.
Many people think mentorships are official relationships. A mentor is anyone who you can learn from, who gives you advice and teaches you things. Here are some tips to consider for anyone who would like to become an ideal apprentice:
- Find yourself someone you can use as a bench mark or a ruler to compare yourself to when you’re faced with difficult decisions. What would this person do in this situation?
- You don’t necessarily need to hold out for an official, sanctioned relationship, but rather, learn from anyone who has wisdom or advice or value they could pass your way.
- If you ask someone for a favor or piece of advice, how can they get value out of it too?
- Ask questions that would be helpful to you, but easy for him/her to answer. (If you want them to read your dissertation or review your entire marketing plan and provide feedback, that's asking a lot of their time. If you want a 5 second opinion on a logo design or title of a content piece, that's much easier to ask.
- Find the people you relate to (search via LinkedIn, visit a regional startup incubator, a local meetup, etc.) and see what you like about them or how you see yourself in them. If you set up a time to speak, be sure that you've done your homework and have questions prepared. Always be conscious of their time. If you schedule 15 minutes to speak, get to the point and keep yourself on time!
- If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, surround yourself with other entrepreneurs. They can be the best people to talk to when trying to launch a new company. Get a membership to a startup incubator (St. Louis incubators include: T-REx, CIC, OPO, TechArtista, Industrious, etc.) You can also join (or start) a club on your college campus or attend networking events or meet-ups.
- A great read on this subject, Mastery the latest book by Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, does a deep dive on apprenticeship, mentor cultivation, and in-depth mastery of skills.
Below is an example of a world-class apprentice, Albert Einstein. Read on to see how you can emulate him and others.
After graduating from the Zurich Polytechnic in 1900, the twenty-one-year-old Albert Einstein found his job prospects extremely meager. He had graduated near the bottom of the class, almost certainly nullifying any chance to obtain a teaching position. Happy to be away from the university, he now planned to investigate, on his own, certain problems in physics that had haunted him for several years. It would be a self-apprenticeship in theorizing and thought experiments. But in the meantime, he would have to make a living. He had been offered a job in his father’s dynamo business in Milan as an engineer, but such work would not leave him any free time. A friend could land him a well-paid position in an insurance company, but that would stultify his brain and sap his energy for thinking.
Then, a year later, another friend mentioned a job opening up in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. The pay was not great, the position was at the bottom, the hours were long, and the work consisted of the rather mundane task of looking over patent applications, but Einstein leaped at the chance. It was everything he wanted. His task would be to analyze the validity of patent applications, many of which involved aspects of science that interested him. The applications would be like little puzzles or thought experiments; he could try to visualize how the ideas would actually translate into inventions. Working on them would sharpen his reasoning powers. After several months on the job, he became so good at this mental game that he could finish his work in two or three hours, leaving him the rest of the day to engage in his own thought experiments. In 1905 he published his first theory of relativity, much of the work having been done while he was at his desk in the Patent Office.
Challenge yourself to seek out new opportunities where they may not readily be apparent or that you may not have previously considered.