Why Mentors (and Role Models, and Life Coaches) Matter

Like so many of us, I grew up thinking that with enough passion and persistence, I could be successful on my own—that I had it in me to have it all and to do it all. We tell ourselves this a lot, whether we’re setting our sights on a career goal or a personal goal. […]

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Like so many of us, I grew up thinking that with enough passion and persistence, I could be successful on my own—that I had it in me to have it all and to do it all. We tell ourselves this a lot, whether we’re setting our sights on a career goal or a personal goal.

Ten years ago, I was a first-time founder, using my own capital to fund an original idea: an enterprise software business for the fashion industry. I felt pressure to grow the company rapidly (otherwise I thought I’d be wasting my time and money), and because I prided myself on being self-sufficient, I didn’t take time to surround myself with a supportive group of mentors. Not only did I feel isolated in navigating the ups and downs of building a business, but I felt like I couldn’t invest in a professional coach, a therapist, or anyone besides my family to help with the related stress. I assumed I could simply put my head down and figure out the unknowns along the way.

On the surface, that plan seemed to be working. After eight years when I picked my head up, I saw that I’d neglected so many parts of my life. My personal finances were a wreck, my relationships were hanging on by a thread, and my self-care was completely non-existent.

I wanted to get back on track, and since it was now obvious to me that I couldn’t do everything on my own, I admitted I needed help. I sought out coaches, role models, or mentors for every aspect of my life. It was like a domino effect—once I understood how helpful one person could be, I realized I had to find another motivating person to help me grow in another area.

You can Google any kind of coach and link to someone willing to take your cash and say they’re going to help you, but the fact is, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. Coaches can be informal and take the shape of mentors, friends, or inspiring role models you find through reading biographies or even blogs. In areas where I don’t have a coach, I count on my husband and kids to keep me on track. Inner circle aside, these are three of the most important people everyone needs in their life:

Financial Planner

No matter how much money you have, it’s critical that you have a handle on how you’re spending it and how you’re investing it. When I was building my business, my personal finances were neglected. Not only had I invested my personal savings into my company, but as a family, our spending was wasteful (food & beverage, extra household supplies for the fear of running out!) in the name of short-term happiness, and we weren’t investing in our long-term future. In fact, the stock market was at an all-time high, and we weren’t reaping any of the benefits. My husband and I realized we had little strategy to get our finances in order, so we hired a wealth manager to help us invest our money across real estate, stocks, and bonds. (Many people use Betterment or Wealthfront or other online financial advisors, which charge a small fee.) Thanks to our expert, we came up with a personalized strategy to diversify, cut unnecessary spending, and create a few streams of passive income. And then we were able to relax again. Regardless of how you allocate your finances, the most important thing is to make a plan that doesn’t require daily attention and that you can believe in for the long haul.

Relationship Mentor

It’s easy to get trapped in your own little world, but if you’re not there for people when they need you, they won’t be there when you need them. One important example was my parents. We weren’t spending enough quality time together. In talking to one of my mentors—a fellow angel investor—helped me create a methodology to help strengthen the relationships that mattered to me: immediate family, close family and friends, professional friends, new friends I wanted to make. For each of these categories, I created a list of goals related to the frequency, quality, and types of activities we could do together. I started calling my parents regularly. I hosted a dinner party with different friends once a month, and I started making new friends again. I feel so much more connected and happier as a result.

Activities Partners

It’s important to constantly refill your well with things that bring you joy and inspiration; otherwise, burnout is inevitable. After years of having really only one focus (work) and one emotion (stress), I was committed to improving an area I broadly think of as spirituality. It is the part of my life that fuels a lot of my happiness, innovative ideas, and peace of mind. So now, twice a year, I do something unexpected with some of my closest friends. This could mean taking a trip, attending a conference, or picking up a new hobby. Last year, I fulfilled this goal by learning to box and practice yoga. This year I’m learning chess, trying heli-skiing, and attending a ten-day silent meditation (Yes, when it comes to self-care, sometimes you can be your own best partner).

You shouldn’t wait until you’ve achieved that one thing that matters to you the most (whether it’s building a business, losing weight, or meeting your dream partner) to get the other areas of your life in order. It all needs to be an ongoing work in progress. It took a lot of effort for me to fix things that wouldn’t have broken if I’d been tending to them over the years. Now I’m always trying to stay ahead of the game. I ask myself (and people I mentor), If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you regret not having done? Set your goals, then don’t be afraid to find people to help you reach them.

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