Months ago, when I was starting this project, a friend asked me an interesting question. I was surprised at my answer. The dialogue went something like this, with some stage instructions, so you can visualize and repeat it more thoroughly:
My friend: “So, how do I tell if someone needs a mentor?”
Me: “Well, they have to meet a few qualifications: (raise index finger) They have to be breathing. (raise second finger) They need an opposing digit – not necessary, but helpful. (raise third finger, for symmetry, because the first 2 are the only important things and apparently the human brain likes prime numbers) Third, they must recognize that a mentor is vital to their success.”
That’s the important part about the conversation. The rest involved 2-year-year olds and precociousness.
The reality is that you need a mentor. Everyone needs, and almost instinctively seeks out, mentors in their lives.It’s not a sign of weakness, either. In fact, it’s one of the most obvious clues to success. You don’t have to look very hard to find a mentor behind every success story.
“I’d like to thank the Academy.”
Mentor springs from Greek Mythology, and as a character in Homer’s work. Mentor was an old friend of Odysseus’s father. When Athena wanted to help out Telemachus without getting in trouble with Poseidon, she disguises herself as Mentor. In this disguise, she convinces Telemachus to reproach his mother’s relentless suitors. She advises Telemachus to leave Ithaca and make a name for himself in Sparta.
Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, basically advises Telemachus to get over himself, show what he’s made of, and take control of his life. That’s what Mentors do.
Mentors help you get over a particular hurdle, one that they’ve overcome. They’ve succeeded at something you want to do. If I want to build and develop a success system for myself, I look to others who’ve built similar systems successfully. If you want to get a job or set up a business, talk to someone who’s gotten a job (quite a feat, based on what I hear) or set up a business.
Mentors will let you see possibilities. It’s award-show season in the United States, and for some reason I just had to sit through the entire Golden Globe show last weekend. It was instructive in one thing: each winner had people to thank for their success. People who believed in them (usually a loved one), or encouraged them (a qualified director or fellow actor), or kept pushing for them (an agent) in spite of what the winning individual may or may not have believed about themselves. Les Brown, a motivational speaker, looked to Norman Vincent Peale, a legendary motivational speaker, for advice and support. On a whim, Brown sent a recording to the legend; the legend believed, and let Brown know it. Peale told Brown: “You have everything it takes. Just continue to speak from your heart and you will do well.”
You need a mentor.
You need a mentor, because I think it’s intrinsic to success to be a protégé. I always loved the word protégé. Mainly because it’s French and sounds really cool when you say it. I would love to be someone’s protégé. Maybe I have been, and I was just clueless. I think maybe a couple of times when I practiced law in Idaho. That’s another post entirely.
But there’s also a shared sense of sponsorship and responsibility in the word. That there’s someone out there who cares about you and your success. If you have a mentor, you’re a protégé.
Often, seeking out a mentor is a growth process in itself. You have to acknowledge that you need a mentor. You have have to take some risk to ask for a mentor. Sometimes potential mentors will say no, and sometimes not very nicely. That’s no reflection on you, but he or she was simply the wrong person to ask. Don’t let that stop you. Keep asking until you find the right mentor.
The process of looking for a mentor helps you believe in yourself and your abilities. You have to know what you can and want to do before you can ask someone else to help you accomplish it. You have to have confidence. You have to understand what your goal is. You have to have faith in it.
Your project doesn’t have to be fully realized before you can seek out a mentor. You don’t need a business plan. Your idea needs to be articulable. It needs to be something that you can script. often, the very act of scripting your mentoring request is the exercise you need to make the project real to you. Take a moment and script a mentoring request to your most revered potential mentor. A favorite law professor, a blogger, a well-known author, an industry leader. Pick one, and create a 30-second pitch that will capture the potential mentor’s vision and sense of purpose.
Here is mine, to Carolyn Elefant of myshingle.com, the author of Solo by Choice and Social Media for Lawyers. Ms. Elefant gave me some very wise advice a couple of years ago, when I faced a decision to stay in the US and work to build my solo practice or join my husband in Sweden. She is doing exactly what I want to do with this project. It’s taken me 18 months to craft the appropriate request, one that sets this project out succinctly enough to elicit some response from her. I would put it in an e-mail, since I really don’t have the guts to call her on the phone (it seems somehow easier to read the word “no” than to hear it said by another person).
My mentor request
Dear Ms. Elefant;
In know you’re busy, so this will be a short e-mail. For years, I’ve believed that law can be practiced wherever I am, and that by the virtue of electronic media, I can do just about anything I want wherever I want. Two years ago, I thought I could practice nuclear law in the “cloud.” I also thought that young attorneys were being terribly underserved and need the help of a mentor who wasn’t obsessed with their bottom line. Anyway, this has morphed into a project that incorporates the benefits of a cloud practice with the need to educate and encourage young attorneys about the business of practicing law. I’ve started a blog directed at young attorneys, to get them to use their legal training to start a business and get out of their funk.
I know you faced challenges when you started as a solo practitioner during stressful economic times. I’m facing those challenges again. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to be my mentor. All it will take is a few minutes a month – a quick email note, or even a phone call, so I could ask you a few questions. Would that be okay?
Just do it
Asking someone to take time out of their schedules is a hard task. Exposing a vulnerability to yourself and others is even harder. Asking for someone to act as a mentor does none of these things. The person will, without judgment either say no or say yes. If the mentor says no, then move on. Your situation will not have changed.
But if the mentor says yes, you will be changed forever.