Great Ideas for your Small Business: Find a Mentor
although finding a mentor seems like a good idea, actually making the connection can be intimidating, especially for people who are reluctant to admit they need help. But a mentor can steer you around the potholes and buoy you up when you are drowning in confusion. A series of mentors have played a significant role throughout my career as a journalist and entrepreneur. It’s worth the effort to hook up with someone you admire—and someone who admires you.
My first mentor was Dr. James Julian, a journalism professor who taught media law at San Diego State University. He was tough, demanding, and terrifying. He peppered us with complicated legal concepts and rattled us with eye- crossing exams. One day he abruptly stopped his lecture to reprimand me for whispering to a friend. He ordered me to meet him in his office right after class. I was mortified.
Instead of yelling at me for disrupting the class, he handed me an application for a national student journalism contest and insisted I complete it. I did.
A few months later, when we were flying to Buffalo, New York, to accept the award, I realized that I had met my first mentor. For many years, he critiqued my work, pushed me to work harder, and praised my accomplishments. We kept in touch until he died.
Over the years, I’ve sought out a variety of mentors to help me overcome a number of professional and personal obstacles. I’ve looked for people who are much further down the path I want to travel. I seek out people whose accomplishments inspire me—people who lead lives of purpose and fulfillment.
Sometimes the best mentor you can find is in a totally different field from yours. One of my mentors, a successful business person, is involved in national politics.
Once, when I was embroiled in a sticky political battle surrounding a major project, I found that my mentor’s view of the situation was far different from mine. He listened to my version of the facts, asked questions about all the key players involved, and explained how I could make some radical changes without further bruising the egos of the people I was brought in to help. His approach to crossing this political minefield was critical to the success of the project.
You’re probably reading this and thinking, well, perhaps it’s easy for Jane Applegate to find mentors—but what about me? There are mentors to be found in every corner of America. No matter how small your town is, there is someone around whom you admire, someone who is living the kind of life you would like to lead.
Writing a simple note or making a telephone call is the first step. Tell the person that you admire what they’re doing and say you would like to meet for a few minutes. Don’t frighten them by saying, “I want you to be my mentor.” Busy, successful people won’t always have time for a long lunch, but they might have time for a quick chat on the phone or a cup of coffee near their office. If the mentor you choose turns you down, try someone else. It’s worth making the connection.