On Having Mentors

The idea of having a mentor to help us make decent decisions or to have someone we can talk to has been a recurrent theme in the world of entrepreneurship; with good reasons. The idea is nothing new. Young adults in Greek society chose a school of life where admirable figures could readily be found. The idea of shamans or priests resonates with us all as well. It makes sense to have someone we can put our ideas to the test before making them real through action.

To find someone admirable… it is not that easy to understand why they have this effect on us. Generally speaking what is happening is that an admirable person is a person that has a certain set of values that we are either missing or lacking. They are also within our reach, which is to say we are hopeful we can capture whatever it is they have. When both of these criterion are met, we are effectively facing a person that can help us grow personally.

Theres this misunderstanding that you need to form a verbal contract with the mentor. That is not the case. In fact you don’t need this formal relationship. If you like someone, get to know them and ask specific questions: When X did that to you, how did you deal with the situation?, What is it that you do that helps you hold relationships?, How did you solve X problem?. Mentors can also be of any age. It’s a false assumption to think that individuals who are younger than us don’t have much to teach us. In fact, I remember back when I was traveling through California; I had met a young man about my age who was simply fascinating. He was showing great initiative and he was very smart. It didn’t take long for us to bond since I became so curious and asked him to give me some background about his upbringing. In most cases, people like genuine recognition.

Our strongest attribute to find respectable mentors or guiding figures is therefore a sense of curiosity. If you have a hard time cultivating that sense, think of someone in terms of their biography, their story. Imagine their narrative. They say that everyone has a story that would make you laugh, but also a story that would put tears in your eyes. When you believe that to be true, you won’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. You will become genuinely interested. This will help you ask meaningful questions that invite your interlocutor to give you real, raw stories. Make your intentions clear. I personally catch myself promoting my stories and showing off every now and then. The problem with that is that when you talk, you don’t listen. Not to mention that sometimes time is not an option. Some people you appreciate have an agenda, understand that you might need to formulate your ideas, you might need to flesh out your conversation beforehand to make sure you cover those points with them. Especially if they are individuals whom you may only talk to, or meet once or twice a year. Remember to take advantage of technology. Written correspondence and Skype are great fits for exchanging with someone. This can even help you reach out to someone who doesn’t necessarily live close by.

Finally, try to write down what it is that you find admirable in a specific person. It will help you understood which unknowns are limiting your potential. This can help you build better questions around that theme. Treat the unknowns as blurry spots in your mental map of the world. Those unexplored zones are exactly what you need to trace out, slowly, but surely! Therefore, pay attention to your limitations to better asses them.


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