Changing the What to Who: How I Chose My Mentor (and Why You Need One Too)

My name is Natalie, and I actually enjoy working. I was raised to believe business comes first and that you should love what you do rather than do what you love. Though I fall under both loving what I do and doing what I love, I was taught that working hard will eventually pay off and that you must give others a leg up on your way. These building blocks were a strong foundation for my career, but given my age (and years ahead of me), I knew I would continue to seek inspiration and guidance elsewhere. That’s when I began to ponder the idea of mentorship. 

Who does she want to be?
When I was younger and was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answers ranged from lawyer to ballerina. Now, here I am in my 22nd year, with no law degree or ballet slippers. For me, the what has changed to who. Who do I want to be when I grow up? 

Learn by doing.
I’d like to think that I have grown since entering the professional world (dating back to the first of five college internships). Though I learned grammar and structure in school, I felt that my skills were truly harnessed once entering the workforce. Through “learning by doing”, I now consciously work toward being a woman who is unequivocally accomplished, teachable, fearless and encouraging of others. And with every professional experience I slip under my belt, those qualities seem less daunting and more feasible. How you might ask? By enabling myself to be open-minded and eager with every opportunity and experience I am fortunate enough to absorb. And it’s those opportunities and experiences that allowed me to work alongside some incredible women who have shaped the young professional I am today and the woman I plan to be in the future. 

Past vs. present. 
Since starting my career journey, I repeatedly considered the idea of having a mentor—though I had little knowledge of what that entailed and who that person might be. I longed for professional guidance, and until two months ago, I felt there wasn’t someone I aspired to be in regards to professional growth and attainable, long-term goals. Come to think of it, nor did my friends. This raised the question: was mentorship something that previous generations upheld and is now a thing of the past? I can recall my dad telling me (for what felt like the millionth time) about his mentor he met in his twenties—a man who taught him everything he knew about clothing design, textiles, and influenced the man he is today. Would I ever have my own mentor? 

June 3rd, 2019: my first day at Create & Cultivate. I walked in the office to meet my new co-workers and coincidentally my new boss that started on the same day as me. Not even a week into my time here, I knew that Sacha, the editorial director (and my supervisor) needed to be my mentor. She is wickedly smart, refreshingly personable, and capable of pretty much anything (even beyond editorial boundaries). She hailed from MyDomaine, where she quickly climbed the ranks and ran a team of eight seasoned editors. It only made sense that she came to C&C to restrategize the media platform and take it to the next level. 

A case-by-case basis.
One thing I want to highlight: mentorship and management are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have our bosses become our mentors, but that is not always the case. I got lucky. For instance, not only do I admire Sacha’s work history enough to want her as my mentor, but I also mesh well with her management style. She is diplomatic, nurturing, and honest. She doesn’t sugar coat anything but graciously extends praise when deserved. She is, by definition, a badass. That (among other qualities) is what I hope to mirror as a leader in the future, thus my propositioning for her to be my mentor.  

Why do I need a mentor?
I know what you’re thinking. Is all this pressure a tad aggressive (and excessive)? And for what? I’m only one year out of college with an abundance of time to figure everything out. Case in point. Being young with much to learn, there is no better time than now to gear up for your future self. And oftentimes, we need a human beacon to help guide our career journey. Personifying your future self by selecting someone you admire and asking them to be your mentor is a great way to take actionable steps towards attaining your career goals.

Formalities, formalities, formalities.
So, you have selected your most coveted qualities in a potential mentor and finally found your professional “match” (within reach). Now what? These days, it seems that formalities have flown out the window. No one calls anymore, only texts. Slang is used as primary dialogue (even in the office). But one area that requires attention: asking someone to be your mentor—formally. That means requesting some in-person, one-on-one time. My suggestion is taking him or her to coffee, or in my case, somewhere away from the office. Begin by telling that person why you admire their achievements, their work-style, and why you aspire to be like them in your professional endeavors. Then kindly ask if they would be willing to mentor you through your journey. Chances are, they will be happy to do so and will appreciate your consideration. 

The upkeep.
Being a mentor holds weight, as does being a mentee. Being a mentor has more obvious responsibilities, like providing advice, answering questions, and imparting wisdom. But the mentee also has some leg work to consider. The mentee determines the capacity of the mentoring connection. This means that the mentee will determine how much guidance is required, how often said guidance will be required, and overall goals to achieve within the relationship. Goal-setting by the mentee will help gauge this connection and work as an outline for both parties. 

Take the bull by the horns. 
As you begin your career, you might have one idea of who you want to be. As you grow and your career trajectory pivots, perhaps your mentor no longer aligns with your long term goals—and that is more than okay. You are allowed to ask more than one person throughout your journey to be your mentor and even have multiple at one time. Just keep in mind, these relationships require some TLC and should be taken seriously. Now is the time to reflect on who you are and who you hope to be. I’m no mentor, but I am here to advise that you get out there and identify someone who could mentor you. Start to consider who might be your beacon and how you can cultivate a beneficial relationship with that person. Happy mentor hunting!

Natalie engel