When I was in undergrad I had a professor tell me something that still sticks with me to this day: you will accomplish a lot, but you’ll need to find the right people to really grow and help push you to those achievements. You won’t want to do it on your own.
I remember it primarily because it was the first time a professor had set aside some time to talk to me about what I actually wanted to really do. I think he knew, way before I did, that becoming a doctor wasn’t going to be in the cards for me. He did however see potential, and I will be forever grateful for that. Secondly, this sticks out in my mind because it’s the first clear communication that in order to be my best, I need people who believe in me, and also push me to be better. I needed to find mentors.
Mentorship. It’s a buzzy buzzword that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But I thought I’d share my mentorship journey. Because it’s not always easy to find your “people”, and they don’t always stay around for forever. But the impact in my life has been significant, and the value is immeasurable. I do want to say upfront that I truly believe these relationships are mutually beneficial. As much as I’m getting from my mentors, I also know I’m helping my mentors too. So here’s three kinds of mentor relationships I’ve had so far in my life.
My first professional mentor. I met him my first day of the MBA. He was there to speak to the class about what to expect, and I remember approaching him after the session to say I appreciated his sock choice (most of the time, people wear boring socks, but his were bright and loud, just like me). So when I reached out a couple weeks later to say thank you, he remembered me and we naturally struck up a connection. The MBA was challenging, and some days felt like steep mountain climbs, but having this connection point, reminding me to see the forest, not just the trees — helped immeasurably. He pushed me to look for work ahead of my classmates, and encouraged me to see my retail skills as transferrable, not just “that thing I did in University”. Once the MBA was over however, this mentorship took a bit of a different turn, more into a friendship and then a professional connection. Although we rarely talk now, I couldn’t have made it through the MBA without those conversations. Mentorship doesn’t have to last forever, sometimes it naturally is removed when it’s no longer necessary for either parties. Don’t force anything that’s starting to fade.
The one where a boss became a mentor. Have you ever had a conversation that flowed so well, that you believed you’d known someone for forever? That’s what happened when I had my first phone interview with Doug from Chalk. It was a brief call, but we both knew it was a good one. I rarely walk away from calls knowing next steps are following, but we both knew it was an easy decision. And thus, my likely lifelong mentor, and friend emerged. Doug has a way of articulating what I cannot about myself, and helps me really see the big picture, and what’s next. When I left Chalk for a job in Toronto, he was supportive and encouraging even though I think we were both unsure of how much we would stay in touch. However, that job quickly became unideal and Doug was there with biweekly coaching calls, allowing me to vent, strategize, and reminding me that there were still good learning pieces in that year. He also has been instrumental in helping me grow in roles, and really focus on what I want next. We haven’t worked together for over 2 years, but we’ve stay connected and helped each other through some crazy situations. It’s amazing to have a friend, and resource like this and regardless of where I go, I know Doug will always be there, cheering on my success, like I do his.
Rejection. That’s right — not all mentor/mentee relationships are meant to be, and it’s important to call these things out because it happens to all of us. I was starting my career at the University of Waterloo and the Executive Director of the program I was working for had been a customer of mine when I ran a shoe store ahead of getting my MBA, so I knew her a little bit. She had great fashion sense, a keen eye for business and had held numerous positions that I admired. So when I realized we could be working together, I was excited to be lead, and hopefully encouraged by this powerhouse woman. In our first meeting, after acknowledging that I had been the “girl from the shoe store” she told me it was a good thing I had the MBA, otherwise I was just a pretty young thing. She then mentioned “in passing” (although after talking to other females after this, I realized it was intentional) that she only mentored men, because she felt it was more important to have a female mentor to a man, and young women needed to go through the same things she had.
This one stung because here was someone I admired so much, telling me that mentoring me wasn’t her “thing”. This taught me that no matter what was happening in my life going forward, any female that wanted my time, a meeting or who was trying to get herself into a better situation and asked for help, that I would do whatever I could to motivate and encourage her. It also made me realize, that forming strong connections with someone to build towards mentorship is way more important than just assuming it will happen.
So, if there’s some sort of advice I can offer to anyone looking for a mentor, it’s to build relationships with a lot of people, and to not force anything. I’ve heard of people who have targeted one specific person, and it can work — but if you’re like me, your relationships naturally lend themselves into a mentorship. Focus on the people in your life, and realize that some people are just here for moments in life, and others are lifers. And no matter how hard you try, some people won’t want to join your journey, but they teach things anyway.
What sort of mentors have you had? How have you changed your professional trajectory? I’d love to hear your story!