I had the huge privilege of attending The Diana Award ceremony a few months ago. There were many amazing people delivering speeches (including Prince Harry) and promoting the organisations incredible work. One of the speakers discussed the importance of mentoring and this sentence stuck with me: “Mentoring changes lives.” As a mentor myself with the privilege of having great mentors in my life, I couldn’t agree more!
Some of us fool ourselves into believing that we are a self-made success story. I was discussing mentoring with a friend and asked her to name someone she considered her mentor. She couldn’t name anyone until I pointed out that our first-year law professor was a mentor to both of us. She gave me a confused look until I pointed out how he went out of his way to teach us important skills such as networking, self-belief, and public speaking. Before we went on our summer internships, he gave us advice for making the most of the experience. Even though we had not formally asked him to be our mentor there was no denying that he was.
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to understand the importance of having a mentor or have access to one. They lack the network and confidence to find a mentor. There is a huge gap in access to mentors with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic minorities and females finding it more difficult to secure a mentor. A research paper published in 2016 found that, in higher education faculties, mentors tended to choose mentees that closely resembled themselves in terms of race, class and gender (The Mentoring Gap. Race and Higher Education Commentary Series. Commentary by Tomiko Brown-Nagin. May 10, 2016. 129 Harv. L. Rev. F. 303). Therefore, it is imperative that we all recognise our part to play in mentoring others in our community.
But what is mentoring exactly? Mentoring, according to Harvard Law Review, is: “…the pairing of a student with an experienced teacher to nurture talent and provide advice and support.” They use the example of a teacher, but technically anyone can be a teacher provided they have the necessary experience and are willing to devote their time to teach, guide, and inspire their mentee. Numerous studies have shown that mentors help mentees to build social impact, advance employment prospects and accelerate personal growth.
I have been lucky enough to have some excellent mentors so I have compiled my top tips on how you can find your own.
- Don’t be scared to reach out
You have absolutely nothing to lose. Put your ego aside and be ready to hear “no” but remember one thing, in life just one yes can change your life. I am a mentor myself and I love my mentees, it is an extremely enriching experience. Mentorship is a two-way street; your mentor is gaining a lot from you too so don’t feel you are taking and not giving anything back. The chance to watch someone grow is priceless.
- Respect their time
If you want to have a good mentor, chances are they have a very busy schedule. Do not take more than half an hour of their time, at least for your first ever meeting with them. Be strict with your timing. At thirty minutes on the dot let them know how thankful you are and tell them that you don’t want to take more of their time. You will gain their respect for life.
- It’s ok to be you
“Be yourself” is a statement that has been so overused I feel it has almost lost its meaning but there is no better policy. I once had mentee who tried to be completely different during our session, I guess because they thought I would like them more if they were more like me. Your mentor needs to know the real you if you want a chance of getting something out the relationship. There must be a spark, some chemistry and there is absolutely nothing you can do to make it happened. It is either there or not so don’t waste your time trying to be someone else in the hope of getting the person to mentor you.
- Be prepared
You will have a limited amount of time with your mentor so come prepared. A good starting point is to introduce yourself but please do not start sharing personal stories from the get-go. Practice sharing who you are, your background and what you need a mentor for. Try to keep this under one minute. Your mentor doesn’t need to know your life history! Then state your goals very clearly so you can both started tackling the beast.
- Politeness in underrated
You have no idea what a handwritten thank you card can do to someone. Just take a second to think: when was the last time you received a handwritten card? And no, your granny doesn’t count!After your initial meeting send your mentor a handwritten thank you note. Don’t be over the top, just a few words thanking them for their time and insight. It will solidify your relationship from the start. Mentoring is both an overlooked key to your future success and a very rewarding and practical way to give back to your community. I hope this article has given you some ideas and motivation to engage with this topic further.