“A raft is a good thing to have when you’re crossing a river,” notes American psychologist and author Meg Jay. “But when you get to the other side, put it down… Every problem was once a solution.”
While not a perfect metaphor for mentoring, there’s something in this point about having the right help at the right time.
One of my first mentors – who matched with me as part of a formal mentoring programme at my then-place of work – offered great help when I was starting out in the commonwealth public service.
He told me not to jump around from gig to gig but to settle down in one spot for a while. It was simple advice and, a bit too eager to leap onto the next opportunity, advice I needed at the time.
Fast forwarding a few years, however, when working as a liaison specialist in New Guinea, I needed a different kind of advice – not so much to slow down and be able to absorb the lessons in one place, but how to build an effective one-person end to end community engagement programme.
Here I turned to mentors I’d never met – to books on state-building, key lessons from as far away as Afghanistan and Iraq, and to the architects of some of the most renowned local engagement programmes.
Passing on the advice
The broad lesson has been helpful. Mentors, at different times, and in different things, can help greatly.
Having now been mentoring as part of a programme for almost a decade, I continue to focus on and provide this advice to my mentees.
When you’re a mentee, in particular, so much depends on where you are in your journey, the challenges in front of you, and where you’d like to go.
There’s a need to carefully think about the advice you need. But it can be surprising how rarely this is done.
- Do I need help writing a cover letter?
- How does my CV look?
- What type of internship will help be a springboard to increasing my employment chances?
When a mentee grows over the years, and having seen this a few times, the questions (should) tend to shape up differently:
- How much longer should I stay in this job before I move on to something else?
- Is a career in local, state or federal government more my thing?
- What else should I learn in this role before I move on?
Being specific, when you can, is ten times better than being vague about a distant ideal of a job. Or the fog of an idealised destination.
Constant growth and filling gaps
Recently, I asked a friend – someone a few years ahead of me – to do a health check of my CV. I also asked another friend – certainly a few years ahead of me – to take a look at a current affairs piece I was looking to publish on Australia’s constitutional monarchy.
“Although one mentor at a time is best,” writes the bestselling author Robert Greene, “it is not always possible to find the perfect one. In such a case, an alternate strategy is to find several mentors in your immediate environment, each one filling strategic gaps in your knowledge and experience.”
In reality, some mentors turn out to offer you very little helpful advice.
Others require, with some prompting, to be asked the right questions.
And some, of course, some will never get back to you.
But if you think hard about what sorts of questions you need to ask, and the present advice you need in your life or career, then finding a mentor may not be so challenging.
And, importantly, it’ll help you access the right advice at the right time.
Image source: Training Journal