April 03, 2024

Life-Change and Mentorship

If someone asked you to name the experiences that have changed your life, you might first think of events:

  • a trip you took
  • a competition you joined
  • a mountain you climbed
  • a diagnosis you battled
  • a career-change you navigated

But I'd be willing to bet that a key part of each of those memorable events was a “superconductor” of life-changing experiences: relationships. There was someone or a series of characters you can recall just as quickly as the experience itself.

Wired for One Another

That’s because we’re wired for relationships. They are the source of lasting happiness. And the lack of (or fracturing of) those connections is the cause of deep depression and even shorter lifespans.

There’s been a lot written about nearly every type of relationship. But there’s one that has occupied Experience Institute’s headspace over the past 12 years: Mentorship.

First, let’s talk to Homer

Because I spent time studying Greek, I like going to the origin of words. The word "mentorship" originated from the Greek word "méntōr," which comes from the name of a character in Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey."

In the story, Mentor was appointed by Odysseus to guide and educate his son, Telemachus, while Odysseus was away fighting. At one point in the story, Odysseus’ wife was being pressured to remarry and Telemachus was going to lose his rightful place as heir to the throne. In that moment, Mentor advises the boy to step up, seek support, and fight the suitors back. This was the turning point. Telemachus is inspired to take decisive action and begin his journey towards becoming a mature, responsible leader. He starts to step out of his father's shadow and assert his own identity. All because of Mentor.

Mentorship Today

Although we’re not heirs fighting for our throne, each of us faces decisions and turning points that could use the support of people who’ve been through more than us. But the term “mentorship” carries a lot of baggage today. Asking someone to be a mentor can feel a bit awkward. Calling someone a mentor, especially as you get older, can feel endearing or at times, just plain “young.” And there's no playbook for how to engage in a mentor/mentee relationship.

Types of Mentors

But if we boil it down to its simplest terms, there are areas when a mentor can be helpful:

  • SITUATIONAL Mentor: You’re facing a specific project that is new to you and this person can offer support for this specific chapter in your life.
  • CHARACTER Mentor: You admire how this person has built their life while maintaining their values.
  • CAREER Mentor: You are about to start down a new career path, or reach a new level, and this person is years ahead and seems to have traveled this journey well.

How to start?

There’s no perfect playbook for any of these relationships. If you’re in a position where a mentor would be helpful, try this:

  • Find 1-2 people you’d like to learn from
  • Organize a first conversation
  • Come prepared with your story and specific questions based on what you know about their story
  • Follow up with what you learned from them
  • Share your progress along the way

Then repeat.

If you’re the mentor, remain available, check in every so often, and be as generous as you can with your connections and resources.

Ultimately, your time together will be a bit of a dance. You may speak often, or your meetings might only happen once or twice a year. It takes an incredible amount of self-awareness and courage to ask for support, and to give support. Be patient, be honest, and be kind. Together, you’ll have richer experiences.

A Recent Podcast Episode

Earlier this year, I was asked to be on a podcast to share about the mentorship relationships I’ve had over the past 12 years. This is one area where I feel incredibly fortunate — having spent amazing chapters of my life with the spectacular leaders who span all three of these mentorship relationships. In this podcast episode, we cover a lot of ground and we still to get to quite everything or everyone. Still, I get a bit more personal than usual and we unearth some lessons that may stick with you. Take a listen here.

Huge thanks to Julie & Jimmy for the invitation to join them on their show. And to all of the mentors who've shaped me over the years.

PS: Trying something new — if you want to comment or shout-out a mentor in your life, stop by this Linkedin post I just shared!

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