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Mentors 101: Finding, Maintaining, and Outmatching Your Mentor

Caravaggio studied under Titian, Donald Trump learned from his dad, and Audrey Hepburn had Marie Rambert. Budding talents, whether they’re artisans or entrepreneurs, learn their trade through apprenticeship.
by Caitlin Schiller | Oct 10 2014

You probably already know that a mentor can be your strongest support as you grow in your field, but why should you get one, how do you maintain that relationship, and what do you do as your partnership grows? In Mentors 101, we’ve compiled 3 lessons from best-selling authors  in business and personal growth who break down the intricacies of this most hallowed of teacher-student liaisons.

Lesson 1 from Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone: Surround yourself with the right influences

In her essay, Facebook Product Director Julie Zhuo explains the eyedropper sample of friendship.

“In designer terms, if the world is one glossy, 7-billion pixel image, what color you are is likely the average of an 11X11 eyedropper sample of those around you.”

Here, the eyedropper sample of friendship describes your social and personal ties, but it applies to your professional influences, too.

Getting close to pioneers in your field teaches you the tricks of the trade; at the same time, their “color,” or traits and proclivity toward success, rubs off on you. And the benefits of making smart allies don’t end there: doing so also helps you develop the all-important personal network. As Ferrazzi explains in Never Eat Alone, if your personal network comprises people with many good contacts, you’ll find your own list of contacts beginning to improve and grow. The better these people are doing, the likelier it is you’ll start to take on the color of success.

Lesson 2 from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Be a partner, not a parasite

Remember that kid at school who cozied up to you whenever test day rolled around? Like an unbottled genie, he’d materialize, grinning and dragging his desk close to yours. For five minutes you had a new best friend, but as soon as the bell rang, where’d he go? Who knows – but he no longer needed the answer to #23.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg advocates for not only finding a mentor so you can excel, but excelling so that you can find a mentor. Mentors, even when they are your peers (and they can be!), select their protégés based on performance and potential. This means doing well is a first step toward getting the right person in your corner. Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship – ideally, the mentor learns from you, too, and feels a sense of pride from watching you grow. Respect your mentor’s time and expertise and don’t just meet to “catch up,” exploit, or complain – or for the answer to #23.

Lesson 3 from Robert Greene’s Mastery: For real success, pace, then outmatch, your mentor

Ah, Alexander the Great: famous fighter, strategist of war, and governor for the ages. The man is a monolith of history, but what you might not know is that much of the wisdom upon which he called and later embellished came from the teachings of Aristotle. Without the great philosopher’s influence as a foundation, Alex might be entered in Wikipedia today as Alexander the Passable. His determination to learn and improve upon what Aristotle taught him is what moved him from good to great.

In Mastery, Robert Greene advises choosing a mentor who will teach you their ways, but upon whose work you’re able to riff and improve. The goal should be to learn the path from your mentor, but rather than stop when you arrive at the destination they’ve described, blaze that trail even further. Your mentor can show you the way and even provide help on the journey, but ultimately, you choose how far you’ll go. Set your watermark higher than your mentor’s, and you’ll be well placed to bring up the next generation of outstanding talent.

There’s a lot to be said for going it alone, but finding someone whose journey can help you chart your own will serve you well in terms of efficiency and affinity. So get out there, young padawans of the world, and find the mentor who will help you soar.

Want to learn more about mentors, mastery, and the art of networking well? Check out Blinkist. All of the books mentioned here are available in the library in blinks – key insights from outstanding nonfiction in 15 minutes or fewer.

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