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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

Don't Have a Mentor? Try This Instead

You should get a mentor.

Lately, I’ve been reading this advice everywhere—it seems the new must-have accessory for ambitious professionals is a mentor. And sure, as both a mentor and a mentee, I can attest to the fact that this type of relationship can be beneficial to your career and personal development. Studies have even shown that those with mentors tend to advance more quickly.

But even though it’s the hot new trend, a formal mentoring relationship is not easy to come by, and it’s certainly not a pre-requisite for success! After all, a mentor is not meant to be your cheerleader, business partner, life coach, and genie in a bottle wrapped all in one (and if you do have a mentor, don’t treat him or her like this, or you won’t have a mentor much longer). A mentor is simply someone who can guide you in his or her personal area of expertise.

So if you don’t have one, don’t panic. There are other (sometimes more effective) ways to get the skills and advice you need. Before you go blindly sending “Will you be my mentor?” requests to every hotshot on Twitter, try these other paths instead.

If You’re Looking for Inspiration: Get an Email Education

The most valuable part of a mentoring relationship is getting good advice when you need it. But the reality is, your Q&A session is totally dependent on your mentor’s schedule and specific knowledge—and hearing from a wide array of perspectives can be more useful.

For this type of inspiration, there are a ton of career and life coaches giving out nuggets of knowledge on a weekly—sometimes daily—basis in their newsletters. I’ve learned loads from being on Seth Godin and Laura Roeder’s email lists, and I even learned about and got an American Express business credit card through a SmartBrief newsletter.

So, instead of deleting or unsubscribing all those newsletters, schedule an hour a week to go through all of them, jot down recommendations and words of wisdom, and bookmark good blogs to return to when you need advice on specific topics. Oh, and if you find some especially insightful info, send a shout-out to the author on Twitter or in the comment section—this is a great way to get on an influencer’s radar.

If You’re Looking for Advice: Look Around Instead of Above

When most people imagine a mentor, the stock image is usually someone wise and witty in a sharp suit. Well, guess what? Those people don’t always have time to be mentors!

The good news is, life lessons don't only come from senior executives. In fact, contacts in your field, co-workers, and even people you think you’re in competition with can be very useful: While mentors are great for giving big-picture career advice, people who are at your level are likely closer to the particular situation you’re dealing with.

For example, I run an online therapy company, and was recently contacted by the founder of a competing site. Since our target markets were different, I agreed to speak with him. It turns out that he had experienced a lot of setbacks and was basically looking for a pep talk, and it was actually nice commiserating with him and comparing notes on how we overcame similar obstacles. By the end of the talk, we had both learned a lot and had gained a new perspective on issues we were facing. Plus I found a new drinking buddy!

So, next time you’re looking for advice, look around. The people sitting next to you could be more valuable than you might think.

If You’re Looking for Connections: Get Social

Whether you’re launching a start-up or climbing the corporate ladder, connections are everything. And sure, a mentor might be able to make a few email introductions for you, but nothing compares to actually getting in front of someone and selling yourself one-on-one.

So, instead of focusing your energy on building a relationship with one person, head out there and get in touch with lots of people. Join a professional organization, get on Meetup, or introduce yourself to notable people at events for your field. Make sure to get people’s cards and follow up with everyone you meet, even if they don’t immediately seem like important connections. Maybe you’ll meet a mentor along the way—but in the meantime, you’ll be building buzz about who you are and what you’re up to, and nothing’s more valuable than that.

Ultimately, a mentoring relationship is all about learning and improving. So, instead of feeling frustrated that you don’t have a mentor, look for growth opportunities on your own terms instead. A mentor may come along, but if one doesn’t, you’ll be doing great things for your career all on your own.

Photo of woman at computer courtesy of Shutterstock.

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