Wanted: A Mentor (or Someone Who’s Willing to Give Advice)

 

If you never had a mentor, are you doomed to remain "stuck in neutral" in your career and life?

I recently read the Juice cover story this week about mentors and how young professionals can find a mentor.  There were plenty of advices on how to find a mentor.  A lot of people will say that asking someone to be a mentor is the easiest thing to do, because many of them want to give back.  An acquaintance of mine, Megan Ruble, benefited from having a mentor at her current workplace, Wellmark.

I never had a mentor in the places I worked at.  When I look back, there wasn’t a “warm connection”, opportunities, or anyone who thought that I could use some guidance in the career world.  For 11 years, I was frustrated with being passed over, moved around, and becoming disillusioned.  When I look at it in a big picture point of view, nearly everyone in my age group that I worked with in the past didn’t have a mentor or someone to reach out to for advice and support.

Another YP, Andrew Allen, said “By not asking someone to be a mentor, you’re not allowing them the opportunity to give back.”

What if that person is not interested in being a mentor, or at worst, there are not enough mentors to go around?

Not everyone can grab the ear of Suku Radia, Barry Griswell, or Mary Bontrager every day, every hour, every minute.  They have jobs, careers, and lives to live as well.  There is not enough time, in my opinion, for them to sit down and counsel every young professional in this town.

Des Moines skyline, courtesy of Ray Dennis.

 

As someone who is in a “career transition”, trying to find a mentor is a bit daunting.  I feel uncomfortable asking for advice or help.  And, as silly as it is, I’m intimidated by very important people.  It goes back to sixth grade, when I tried to ask Senator Tom Harkin a question while he was serving lunch in the school cafeteria (namely for a photo op).  He blew me off.  Nothing political, mind you, but to me, he didn’t have time to listen to a chubby 12-year old ask him a legitimate question about subsidies for farmers.

I was always taught not to bother VIP’s or famous people.   You give them their space and you leave them alone.

How frightening and bad is it for me to approach someone of great importance?  Radia roasted Barry Griswell at the American Diabetes Association Gala several years back.  A few weeks later at the Des Moines Art Center gala, I see Suku and his wife, Dr. Mary Radia.  I approached him and stuttered out a thank you to him for his involvement in the Diabetes Gala.

From the look on their faces, I got the sense I intruded on their space.  It was embarrassing.  I wasted his time by simply saying “thank you.” As the Head and Shoulders shampoo commercial famously said “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

After that moment, I resigned myself to “go at it alone.”  The best mentor I could find is myself.  What have I learned in the past are the lessons I use to be a better person.  I didn’t have a mentor to tell me to volunteer, how to network, how to carry myself professionally though I’m not working and moving up the ladder quickly like some of my peers.

Many will say that we all need a mentor and it wouldn’t hurt to ask someone to be one, but if I never had one when I started working at 22, what are the odds that I’ll find a mentor at 35?  Will they be willing to mentor someone who’s unemployed?  Someone who is not in the same profession as they are?  Someone who is trying to find their way or their calling?

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