Pay it forward – that’s the role of a mentor and I’ve been forever grateful to those who have been there for me in my life. The times in my career when I’ve soared, I’ve had a mentor (or two) under my wings. The times when I’ve faltered is when I haven’t had that all-important coach close by. A mentor is one of the most important roles anyone can have in your life – personal or professional. I’ll stick to the work path here but have found that, over time, my mentors have often grown into personal friends.
Detour here: A mentor is someone to help guide you through the peaks and valleys of your career. That person isn’t there to drive the car, or even to give you directions, but to help you survey the road ahead and navigate the best path. I was so fortunate to have Rona Maynard as my first mentor in Toronto. Rona moved me from Vancouver when she hired me as Chatelaine’s Beauty Editor. As Chatelaine’s Editor-in-Chief, she was always opening doors for me, and often pushing me through. Rona constantly encouraged me to stretch my skills and take on new responsibilities. But she also didn’t hesitate to give me some tough love. Some of my writing assignments looked like something had died on them when they came back covered in Rona’s red pen. I would literally whoop for joy if a document came back with just a slash or two of red. (I would proudly show that off around the office. Everyone laughed.) I knew that I could ask her for advice that would never be sugar-coated. Rona was straightforward and uncomfortably direct at times but I was grateful for her care and kindness.
Listen and zing: The best mentors I’ve had have listened to my concerns and let me think aloud. Then they asked just the right questions – usually ones I didn’t want to face – that forced me to confront my role in the problem. Why was I having trouble managing a tricky employee? Was it a power struggle with a junior employee wanting a quick promotion path? Or, was it a poor hiring decision that I had championed without doing my homework. My mentor spotted the problem immediately but wanted me to come to that realization on my own.
Future forward: Another of my treasured mentors (who is now a dear friend) was Kerry Mitchell, my last publisher at Flare. Five years ago, Kerry cautioned me that the media landscape would look radically different today. She encouraged me to challenge all of my thoughts about traditional print magazines and consider a not-too-distant future where content had to live in many different forms. I wouldn’t have guessed then (never in a million years) that Flare would only live digitally in 2017. Her opinions weren’t always popular but her approach was always well considered and fair. I’m here with Kerry (2nd from left) and Marnie and Karen – we all worked for her Rogers and have remained close friends.
If you would like a mentor, here are a few suggestions on who to look for:
- Ask someone you know – perhaps they are a more senior member of your work team, or a trusted family friend.
- Don’t randomly text or DM a stranger asking for mentorship. They should know and care about you.
- Pick a good listener over a big talker. The best mentors let you do the talking and help you come your own conclusions.
- Look for someone with a different perspective who will challenge you when needed, and not just cheer every step you take.
- Good mentors are busy, but they will commit to the connection. I’ve had mentors who met me monthly, and others I see once or twice a year. It’s the quality of the time that counts.
My own mentor squad consists of a handful of people (including close friends) whom I can rely upon for realistic advice. My goal for the coming year is to strengthen my relationship with each of them. I’m going to be reaching out more often to ask for guidance as I continue on my career path. Because no matter how established it has been, I will always benefit from sage advice.