By: Mark Sheeran
I was introduced to mentoring as a freshman in college. At the advice of seemingly every professor, guidance counselor, and assistant dean, I signed up blindly for the mentor program, without any clear understanding of the value that mentoring would provide. Almost 20 years later, I can confidently say that mentoring made me who I am today. But why?
Your career is like a walk through the woods; unless you have been there before, you really have no idea where you are going. Some paths may lead to the mountaintop, others in circles, and some to the swamp. Without perspective you are left to blindly follow the path, doubling back if needed. Sure, you might get lucky and stumble upon the right path, but odds are your walk in the woods will be inefficient, costing you time, energy, and motivation. Worse still, waiting around the corner each time you double back is the temptation to trade great for good enough. The stakes of getting your path right are high, and yet we see so many people out there spending their career wandering around in the woods.
Having a mentor is similar to having a guide. They have seen the terrain ahead, know the obstacles and challenges, and – if you are honest with them about your goals and aspirations – can provide you with the guidance needed to put you on a path that can give you the highest chance of reaching your end goal. Standing on the shoulders of great mentors allows you to see the forest for the trees and gain perspective.
I say that mentors can put you on the path that can give you the highest chance of reaching your end goal, because, as we all know coming out of 2020, nothing is guaranteed. Ultimately, you need to walk that path yourself, which brings me to my final point. Speaking with mentees today, I think about a quote that Frank Lombardi, the former Chief Engineer of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, shared at our annual retreat this past January: “the power in a relationship rests with the person who cares the least.” In mentoring, it is my opinion that the mentee stands the most to gain. Certainly, the mentor gains from the relationship as well, reaching a higher fulfillment in their professional and personal lives, but it is the mentee that gains the knowledge, skills, and perspective that they need to chart the course of their career. And yet, I find that it is often the mentee that cares the least about the relationship, leaving the mentor to push for meetings or an agenda before succumbing to the power of the person who cares the least.
Said another way, no one can care more about your career and development than you do. My message to all mentees out there is to care the most. Dare to push the conversation. Push your comfort zone and ask the important questions. I promise you that more times than not, you will be greeted by a mentor on the other end who is more than happy to share.