Mentors are important. I am not talking about the kind that you are automatically assigned on your first day on the job. I am talking about the kind that keeps a watchful eye on you as you climb up the corporate ladder. Miraculously, these individuals find a way to sneak back into your life at pivotal moments to guide you through them. I wasn’t lucky enough to have one, but I make a special effort to be one myself.
I don’t really “choose” the people I mentor; the rapport between us develops naturally. To be honest, I actually didn’t realize people saw me as their mentor until one day one of them made a comment that suggested I have it all figured out. This made me think: What was it that made them look up to me? What were some pointers I would have given to my younger self? Here are my top three after some reflection on the last 13 years:
- Get to know yourself: You can’t go around chasing opportunities to see which one will stick. Be honest with yourself about what matters to you. If it is the money, so be it. If it is family, so be it. Whatever it is (at that moment in your life), put it front and center when making decisions. My life is all about making choices, every day, every minute of the day. If you are comfortable with those choices, life is so much easier to deal with.
- Be flexible: After college, my plan was to work a few years, attend a full-time MBA program, and get a well-paying job. Things didn’t work out remotely close to this plan. I worked for 9 years before going back to school and even then I worked fulltime while earning my MBA. During all this, I got married and had kids. Keep your long-term goals in check through your rear view mirror; do not lose sight of them. You can’t do it all at the same time but you can choose the order in which you accomplish your goals once you know what they are.
- Talk to people: I am an introvert who is faking to be an extrovert most of the time. If I had my way, I would sit in my office all day behind closed doors and do my job. However, sadly, I came to realize that this is not how things work in Corporate America. Take your C-level colleagues to lunch, invite your neighbors over for a drink, and talk to the parents of your kids’ friends when you pick them up from school. You never know where the next opportunity will come from. I have yet to find a job by searching through job listings. I changed jobs twice in my career (so-far) and on both occasions the jobs found me (one in an email and one in an airplane).