Last week’s post about how to find a mentor resonated with many of you. I’ve been thinking a lot about my mentors lately so I’m following that first post with one about how to make the most of your time with those key people in your life. At a time like this when I’m looking at my next career step and embarking on my own business, is exactly the time when I need my mentors (and support team) more than ever. 

 

I'm at the Fondazione Prada in Milan.

Be prepared – Before picking up the phone or meeting your mentor, think about what’s really bugging you right now. What kept you wide awake at 3am last night? Instead of a list, I like to focus on one topic. Time is precious and you may only have 15 to 30 minutes so make every minute count. That may be a straightforward work dilemma (how you navigate around certain office politics) or it could be more personal (your anxiety over a particular decision). 

No Easy Answers – You’ll notice that I didn’t talk about getting an answer to your question. A mentor isn’t on your team to solve your problems with a quick resolution. A good one is more of a sounding board that leads you to your own conclusion. My mentors are often a starting point. I check in with them along the way. And I don’t always take their advice. The important thing is that they make me think – and usually outside of my own box. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – I always felt that I would appear weak if I admitted that I needed help – that I didn’t know what to do. Big mistake. Once I was honest with a mentor, I was able to talk about my confusion and get the advice I needed. If you’re nervous or anxious about a next step or new job, admit it. Talk about your fears and ask your mentor for perspective. A lot of the time, it’s easy to get hyper focused on one small point at the expense of the big picture. 

Get Out of Your Own Way – My mentors have always been very good about pointing out when I am in my own way – ie. when I’m beating myself up. Many of us can drown in negativity (hands up if you are your own worse enemy) so some thoughtful words of encouragement – and not just platitudes – will help. “Don’t worry, it will all turn out in the end” is not helpful when you’re drowning in the middle. A mentor should listen and know when to throw you a lifeline, and when to tell you to chill. 

Years ago, one of my mentors (Donna Clark, a group publisher at Rogers) suggested that what I needed more than anything was sleep. I often stopped by her office before the workday started. After listening to me flounder around lost in worry one morning, she didn’t give me any answers or direction. All she said was “get some sleep”. She could see that I was spinning and knew that I couldn’t make any kind of rational decision at that time. 

And just the other day, a mentor who has become a close friend reminded me of my personal mantra – “one day at a time” – as I was trying to resolve a problem that just wasn’t there. 

And on that note, this is one of my most favourite quotes. I think about it a lot when I’m getting ahead of myself and building something small into a mountain of worry.

The bridges that you cross before you come to them are almost always over rivers that aren’t there.