Life is hard. Think about it:
- Jobs are increasingly more challenging no matter your current level and expertise. Competitors, lower cost labor and automation makes it hard to keep a job let alone contemplate advancement. Should you go back to school and enroll in expensive training? Or, should you try to advance in your current job?
- Financial security is increasingly tied to one’s own ability to plan and manage finances. Most of us have no financial planning knowledge yet we are required to figure out how much to contribute to our self-directed retirement plans (401K, etc.), the asset classes we should invest in and be aware of concepts like risk-weighted return, portfolio re-balancing, etc.
Tough questions, right? Answering these questions requires (among others):
- analytical skills to evaluate the quantitative aspects of different decisions.
- self-awareness to know what you are good at, what you need to improve in. Too often, we delude ourselves. We might think that a promotion at work is denied us unfairly. That might well be true. But sometimes the reasons your boss denies you advancement may be that you don’t deserve it. Many bosses won’t tell you (this is among the toughest conversations to have with an employee) and neither will your friends (because they don’t often observe you in a professional context and/or their bias occludes their clear evaluation of you).
And, yet, astonishingly, most of us choose to navigate this difficult journey alone. Solo. We may have our spouse or partner to share and vent. But often times, our spouse or partner is unable to help us. Why?
Because they have not been there.
See there are two ways to navigate ahead in uncharted waters (and, the future, by definition, is uncharted) for all of us.
First, we can arm ourselves with knowledge and will power. Like an explorer setting off to new territories.
“MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON”
Second, more simply, we can ask someone who has done the journey before. As the Chinese proverb says, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”
Exceptional Performers All Have Mentors/Coaches
Look around at top athletes, musicians, actors. They all have mentors/coaches — sometimes many at the same time. Even birds fly in formation to reduce the challenges of a journey.
Birds form this inverted V (or, A shape) to help them optimize the energy expended in a migration. (Parenthetically, it is this A-shape that is the inspiration behind the Arnexa logo.)
Coaches/mentors help immensely:
- They provide perspective on what went well, what can be done to improve.
- They do not hesitate to criticize or offer praise. Both of these are done with their knowledge and experience that allows them to present an informed critique of what you do well and where you could improve. This is not possible with a friend/co-worker, or even a boss at work who may be enjoined by various HR policies that muzzle the critique they can candidly give you.
- They have in-depth knowledge of the field — because they have done this themselves. Remember, they have traveled this road before!
You Should Have At Least Two Mentors
You need two mentors for the two crucial areas of your life where we are most often flying blind:
- Career: A mentor can provide guidance on the various choices confronting you: Go back to school or not? Stay in current position or not? Am I getting paid fairly or not?
- Money: This is not necessarily only a financial advisor though it could be. Rather, it is someone who is well-versed in money matters and who can help you navigate different decisions. For sure they cannot know which investment will do well in the future but they can help refine your thinking about choices you plan to make. Say your investment is under-water. You are thinking of exiting this investment and taking a loss. How should you analyze this now (and, into the future)?
Remember that a good mentor does not answer your questions. They help you develop the answers to your own questions.
How do you find a mentor?
Just ask. And, I am not kidding. For your professional mentor, look around you: Who do you respect at work or former place of work? Approach them and ask them if they would be open to being your mentor. Be clear about:
- what it is you are expecting from them, and
- the time commitment you expect from them: 1 hour each month, etc.).
For your financial mentor, things are more tricky. Outside of professional financial advisers, most people hesitate to offer any kind of financial advice for fear of legal liability. So instead of seeking advice of the form “Should I do X?” ask them for help in answering a different question: “If I wanted to do X how should I go about developing an answer?”
Working with a mentor
Once you have a mentor to work with, prepare a list of areas you’d like to work on with them. Then, systematically work through each area over time. Be prepared, on-time for your meetings with the mentor, and efficient in your use of their (and, your) time.
While we often work together for most of life’s problems, we fly solo for two of life’s most difficult problems: careers and money. Get a mentor to help you through these.
Originally published at medium.com