March 6, 2010


If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.
--- Isaac Newton

We get further with help. That's true for Olympic athletes and us. A coach helps you build specific skills. A mentor helps you build a better you. A mentor is more of a psychologist than a trainer. You set the agenda, typically.

The Ideal Mentor
The ideal mentor is
  • Free: giving back for what they've received, not taking from you
  • Compatible: you won't always agree but must be able to talk
  • Knowledgeable: have insights tailored to your situation. They are probably older but older doesn't always mean wiser.
  • Proven success: they have achieved what you want to emulate (ideally, more than more money)
A coach can also help, but a coach may not have succeeded. A coach is more of a teacher than a doer. Each has a role. You can have more than one mentor and more than one coach.
Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.
--- Plutarch
Yes, you can learn from flawed people if you're careful to avoid contamination from their bad elements.

Are You Ready?
To warrant a mentor's time,
  • be reasonable: Mentors have their own lives and issues. You can only ask for so much, so often.
  • help others: this is an ideal way to give thanks for what you've received
  • listen: before rejecting suggestions, reflect (which may take days or weeks or years)
  • act: apply what you learn to show progress
  • show you're worthy: how does investing in you payoff (not necessarily for the mentor; perhaps for your company, clients or society)
Can't Find One?
There are other ways to get mentored if you can't find a volunteer
  • Read books (e.g., from the library)
  • Read blogs for contemporary ideas, and participate by leaving comments
  • Listen to audiobooks (classics and current)
  • Attend group meetings (e.g., through Meetup but avoid the ones that are just selling)
  • Hire a coach, ideally one you have gotten to know through their blog
A book that's new to you doesn't need to be new to the world. You don't need to read the latest ones. There's great value in classics and they're usually available from the library without a waiting list. You can get mentored by people who died. Autobiographies and biographies can help you get inside the head of another. Books written in previous decades or centuries will show you how little we've truly changed.

When You're Done
Mentors move on and pass away. You might outgrow them.

Over time, you'll learn principles. You'll see the world though a new lens. You'll anticipate what the mentor would say. You'll think in new ways. You'll start cutting your own trail through the wilderness. You'll be ready to mentor.

Podcast Episode 57 (4:20)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS Avoid the word "mentor" because you might intimidate the person you're asking for guidance. There's a feeling of commitment. Instead, start by asking questions.

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