A thing or two about mentors

When I graduated from high school I felt like I was being released into the jungle, not yet able to fend for myself, ill-prepared for what lay ahead, no weapons or hunting skills. Just instinct as a companion. (It sounds so dramatic, but you can read about it here).

I had an overwhelming sense of being lost. The feeling was no different the day after my university graduation.


Not feeling as ’connected’ as some students in my class, the task of meeting with industry people felt insurmountable. I barely knew the names of agencies in the industry, let alone people who worked there!

Seriously, how was I meant to pick up the phone (no email in those days) and ask for help with my career?

Reading industry magazines lead to even more anxiety as those people were all a certain ‘type’ which I never really felt I measured up to. 

After a number of failures I eventually worked my way towards studies in college and university. 

Looking back now, I see the nonsense in my thinking, but I empathise with the anxiety I felt. I think back now and see someone who was strong-willed and adamant that they were going to do it on their own, yet failed to seek the assistance and guidance that good mentors could provide.

A friend of mine at the time had made an off-the-cuff comment, “How can I soar like an eagle if I’m surrounded by turkeys?”. Even though he was saying this about us—his circle of friends—in a joking manner, I now see the relationship this silly question has with my career. I wish I knew back than that surrounding myself with 'eagles' would've helped me steer my career with greater purpose.

Surround yourself with people who will help you soar like an eagle.

Being of the mindset that I had to go it alone was one the biggest mistakes I have made in my career. I failed to see the value that a thirty minute conversation with an expert could have.

The large majority of effort when achieving your own goals is a solo effort, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use the collective knowledge of those around you to continue your walk towards a successful and purposeful career.

I think back at people that crossed my path in the early years of my career, and I regret that I didn’t exploit the fact when their path was crossing mine. 

A mentorship arrangement doesn’t have to be a formal, documented arrangement with someone. It can be as simple as a casual catch up over coffee, with someone you know who offers you advice or allows you to see things differently. Some mentors will only see you once and that’s ok. Whilst others will be happy to invest time in you and give something back, understanding that they too were once in your position.

I like to think of mentors as a Council. Your Board of Directors. Your Council of Mentors.

They are the people who will guide you throughout your entire career. Some will drop out of your Council, some you will outgrow. Others will be there the day you open your own business or launch your first product, whilst some may even be the very people you eventually go into business with. 

Don’t under estimate how valuable it is to have help, guidance and advice, every step of the way. Also, don't underestimate how valuable it is to ask "Would you mind if I followed up in a month or two, to show you where I'm at?".

A group of people such as this are invaluable, and you should begin the search for them as soon as possible. 

Think of your Council as as a group of people who:

  • Meet with you on a semi-regular basis to bounce ideas around
  • Answer your career questions
  • Challenge your current way of thinking
  • Inspire you
  • Advise you on your folio
  • Connect you to others and help you broaden your network
  • Are subconsciously keeping you in mind when job opportunities come their way
  • Are happy to Skype you once or twice a year to see what you're doing

I would recommend that you keep this group of people as diverse as possible. Avoid having a Council of Mentors that is a mirror image of you and your own experience. If you do, you’ll receive nuanced versions of the same advice – and if you include family, boyfriends and girlfriends in the mix, you’re headed towards a path of being praised by people who more often than not, don’t want to hurt your feelings. 

Select people who will be honest and most of all, kind. You can start with lecturers, but my advice (and this will be frowned up I’m sure) is to look broader than the comfort zone of education. 

Start with someone you’ve never met before and go from there.

Your Council of Mentors should be made of people from all walks of life; people whom you look up to, respect and are inspired by. People who have achieved something in their own careers or may only be a few steps ahead of the journey that you’re on.

You don’t have to ask them to ‘please be my mentor’ nor do they need to know that they’re part of this secret, influential group of people you’re tapping into for your own personal career success.

Just ask them to catch up from time to time, buy them a coffee and ask about their own career journeys — job done.

I have a range of mentors from various industries whom I catch up with regularly:

  • A leader in the technology and innovation space
  • A couple of business owners with the same amount of experience as I, but with slightly different journeys
  • An advertising industry stalwart
  • The CEO of a large manufacturing business
  • My business partners
  • A lawyer
  • A leader in the philanthropic space
  • A future political candidate
  • The head of digital at an international advertising agency
  • An entrepreneur who has had more failures than successes
  • A leader in the B-Corp space
  • Someone whom I once mentored

As you can see from my list above, my Council of Mentors is broad and varied. I do have a few people from industries similar to my own, but I’ve ensured that their journeys and more importantly, their points of view, are vastly different to my own. Therein lies the value.

I meet with each of them regularly and ensure I have at least one or two key questions I aim to find the answers to, or advice on, from my meeting with them. Sometimes a meeting is informal and not very focussed on career, although I do try and glean personal insight from their own personal stories.

In summary, mentorship is under-rated and not often spoken about — I can't recommend it enough. So much so, I have quite a few posts lined up that will help in this area. Keep an eye out.

I'd love to learn about your experiences in finding a mentor – drop me an email.