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Almost every time I give a talk and share my story, I’m asked, “Was there one person who helped you most along the way?” It’s a good question because for years I believed that everything I accomplished I did alone. Today I know that’s not true.

When our lives are going well, we don’t often stop to think about how we got to where we are. We are oblivious to the countless individuals who have helped us—in big and little ways. Yet without their assistance, most of us wouldn’t have survived.

I was blessed with mentors long before I recognized them as such. There have always been people who have helped me along the way, including Ms. June, my elementary school day-camp counselor; Myra Goldstein, my third-grade teacher; and Louise Robertson, the first woman who had the courage to call me on my bad behavior.

So what’s a mentor? Someone who’s walked the path before us. And because they’ve been where we want to go, they often possess skills, talents, insights, and experiences we lack. Like a favored teacher, a wonderful life coach, or a special therapist, a mentor cares about our success. He or she is willing to help us reach both our professional and personal goals. Unlike a teacher, life coach, or therapist, mentors sometimes don’t get paid. They just do it for the love of the game. They possess the time, energy, and inclination to help us at different stages of our journey. Regardless of whether they’re paid, mentors play an integral role in our lives.

Why are they important? Because sometimes we need an example, someone with the courage to push us and tell us the truth. Louise Robertson was that person for me. She was the first person— whom I’d listen to—who had the courage to tell me how inappropriate my behavior was. And I didn’t like it one bit. She was the first to tell me that self-esteem comes from doing Esteemable Acts and that if I acted like a whore, I’d be treated like one.

“If you dress like a hooker,” she’d say, “you’re going to be treated like one. And if every word out of your mouth is a four-letter word, don’t be surprised with the response you get from people.”

I resented her because I believed she didn’t understand me. But in truth, she understood me just fine. Today so much of who I am as a woman is due to her being who she was, her truth-telling, and her courage to be there for me, even when I was incapable of being there for myself.

Why is mentoring so important? It allows us to pass on what has been given to us to those who really want to learn. It gives us an opportunity to be of service in a very specific way.

So how do you find a mentor? In many cases, they are already in your life. They may even be a teacher or a coach. The first thing to do is identify why you want a mentor. What specific area of your life

needs improving? Perhaps you’re new on the job and want to learn the ropes. Maybe you want to start a business or grow an existing one. Maybe you want to learn a new skill or become more proficient at one you already have. You can have more than one mentor, so be specific about what you want. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a condition you’re serious about changing or improving.

Next, make a short list of people who have the skills that you want and/or who have accomplished what you want to accomplish. Identify the characteristics of your ideal mentor. You want someone who has exceptional skills at reaching a goal, despite the obstacles. It could be someone working in your department, in your organization, or in your industry. It could be a local leader in your community or someone you heard speak. It could even be a relative. The key is to find someone with a proven track record of success in the area in which you need improvement.

Finding the right mentor is one thing, but being the right mentee is quite another. In determining whether you are able to be mentored, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you teachable? Do you think you have all the answers? If you believe you can’t learn from others, a mentor at this time in your life isn’t for you. Being teachable is the first step to being open to mentoring. Once you get that, you are well on the road to success.
  • Are you able to ask for help? It’s not always easy, yet it’s an essential ingredient in being mentored. Sometimes the ideal mentor will approach you, but in most cases, you’ll have to do the work, starting with asking for help. On the other hand, maybe you know you need help, but you’re afraid to ask for it. Fear, pride, ego, laziness, anger, and resentment all get in the way of asking for help. Not allowing those things to interfere with your journey is crucial.
  • Are you willing to use what you learn? Don’t waste a mentor’s time. Don’t expect your mentor to continually share valuable time, energy, and resources with you if you’re not willing to put his or her advice into practice. If you don’t want the advice, don’t ask for it.
  • Do you take the time to appreciate people who have done nice, thoughtful things for you? Saying thank you is a simple yet often forgotten gesture. Don’t take for granted the time and efforts of other people. No one has to do anything for you. Remember to say thank you often.
  • Are you good at keeping appointments? Most mentors are busy and have chosen to take time out of their day to help you. It’s important that you show up, and if you can’t, be sure to cancel in advance.

Finally, you need a plan of action for approaching your mentor. What will it take to get that person on your team? Maybe he or she already is and you just don’t know it. This week, you’re invited to seek out a mentor and make yourself ready for the experience.

It’s an Esteemable Act to say yes to people who are willing to help.

Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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