My mentoring practice frequently brings me into contact with people with huge amounts of untapped potential who are being stymied by self-limiting behavior. Over the years probably two-thirds of my initial conversations with potential mentoring clients have begun with a focus on whether or not the individual sees themselves as deserving (feels worthy of) the attention and support of a professional mentor.
The various assumptions that underlie this self doubt are legion. They range from ‘I have to do this on my own otherwise it is not legitimate’ to ‘I am not important enough to warrant the attention of an experienced mentor’. One of my favorite rationales is “I don’t have time to work with a mentor”. This one is roughly equivalent to saying “I’m too busy driving to have the time to stop for gas.”
Many individuals have spent years caught in the headlights of their own onrushing locomotive. Over and over again many of these people have approached the possibility of real change only to turn back. In each case they defend a decision which is equivalent to fighting a life or death contest without the services of an experienced professional guide.
Think about it for a minute. You are never going to pass this way again. All you will have is what you can make of the opportunities which come before you. As the old saying goes ‘fortune favors the prepared mind’. Preparation is always the key to being able to take advantage of the chances that life offers. Not training to take advantage of those chances borders on the criminal. And it’s not just your life that is affected, but the lives of everyone who cares for or depends on you for the quality of theirs.
What You Deserve Vrs. What You Need
Dealing with, or more properly failing to deal with, self-sabotaging behavior is often the major reason that individuals continue to experience a life which is far less than optimal. Time and again I have listened to a client, who has finally made a real breakthrough wondering, aloud why they spent so much time wandering, unguarded, in the wilderness – how much the better they feel now that they have focus and direction. I just smile and suggest that it makes no sense to try to explain ‘then’ in terms of ‘now’.
That last idea is an important one. Now makes sense in terms of now. But real change requires real change. Once you accomplish that real change, the way you were then seems to make less sense in terms of who you are now. Confused? Well, let’s try a very old Chinese proverb.
As the story is told, there is a blood oath among all dragonfly larvae. Each swears that, once they have traveled across the boundary from the water that has nurtured them to whatever lies beyond (air) that they will come back and tell all the others that were left behind what it is like. But, of course, none ever has!
But with humans there is a way out of this dilemma. Where some have gone they can return and help others make the same journey – and make it more easily and productively. As humans we can learn by experience and teach others our hard earned lessons. And that journey begins with a redefinition of the question at the beginning of this column. “Do I deserve a mentor?” becomes “Why do I continue to deny myself those things which will help me have a better life?” You see it isn’t a question of what you deserve but how much better your life will be because of what you allow yourself to have.
You are the architect of your own life or its demolition squad. It is your choice and no one else’s.
All my mentoring clients have made the journey from being transfixed by the suspicion that they don’t deserve a mentor to the widening horizons that come with having given themselves the gift of being supported. They came to realize that by not engaging a mentor they were sabotaging their own potential and sacrificing their quality of life to an ill thought out aspect of their self image. In short, they decided to be supportive of their own self interests. But mostly they have accepted that real change requires a commitment to making real changes.
Getting Started – A Few Simple Rules
Let’s say that you are willing to entertain the possibility that you could benefit from the support of a mentor. Let’s also assume that you have spent some time identifying areas that you would like to start working on. You are able to talk clearly and openly about those areas and the progress that you would want to make. How would you go about deciding which mentor would fit your needs – which one you would find working with productive?
Seek out those people who have engaged a mentor and ask them about their experiences. Your first surprise may come when you learn how many people – particularly successful people – have a mentor. Some of them have probably tried multiple mentors before they found the one which suits their needs. Talk to them about those experiences and try to learn from their mistakes and successes.
Remember that you are unique and that your needs are going to be different from those people who have successfully engaged with a mentor. But the process is going to be much the same. The process of developing a relationship with a mentor is as much the responsibility of the student as the teacher. Be prepared to discover blind alleys and unproductive engagements. Keep in mind that the matching of a client with a mentor is a human process and that success comes as a result of efforts from both sides. The good rule here is that in order to know you must try. In order to win you must face the possibility of failure. The right mentor for you is out there. You just need to persevere in the search.
The first few sessions of any mentoring engagement are critical to its eventual success. Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful:
Every relationship begins with a get acquainted meeting and mentoring is no different. You should start with the assumption that you’ll have to go through more than one of these sessions before you find a mentor that you can work with. Try to organize these on neutral ground and in a relaxed location – sometimes meeting for drinks after hours or coffee during the weekend.