By Kristin Holland • September 04, 2014•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, •Mentoring and Networking
Mentorship is just a loose relationship in which one person is willing to help another by sharing her life experience, advice and encouragement. Why does it sometimes seem so hard to get the relationship going? I think it's because we are letting perfection be the enemy of the good. So this month, I'm writing to debunk that idea and make the case for imperfection. I'll cover common perfection myths, knock them down one by one, and encourage you to jump into mentorship. Whether you are avoiding the "the give" as a mentor or the "the ask" as a mentee, there is no time like the present to try it out.
Mentors Who Avoid "The Give"
Maybe you are not mentoring anyone because you feel you need to be perfect to take on the task. You may be using any number of excuses to avoid signing up for your law school's mentoring program, taking the new associate out to lunch, speaking on a career panel, or joining one of your local bar's mentoring programs. Here are some of the top excuses I've heard or used myself:
- I'm not ready.
- I don't have good advice to offer.
- I'm flawed and just muddling along, how could I help someone else?
- I'm too busy.
- It's arrogant to think that I have something to offer.
You are ready. If you have finished your education, have a job as a lawyer and are paying your bills, your life experience is already priceless to those women still in school, still looking for work and still struggling with how to reduce their debt. If you are a partner at a firm, a general counsel, a mother of productive healthy children or a good partner to your spouse, you are basically the pinnacle of our profession and you have abundant wisdom to give to women who would love to be like you.
You have good advice to offer. You will not know how your story can help others until you share it. Have you gotten married while working at law firm? Then you have advice about how to have a personal life, plan a honeymoon vacation and deal with inviting (or not inviting) co-workers to your wedding. Have you switched jobs? Then you have advice about giving notice, not burning bridges and finding references. Have you landed a client? Then you have advice to give about business development and customer service. Have you ever gone to trial? Worked in house? Had a child? Lost a loved one? These are all experiences you can share and use in a mentoring capacity.
Of course you are flawed, and through the cracks, the sunlight shines through. The best mentors are those who are honest about their own defects. It gives me great hope to know that some of the people I most admire struggle with things as mundane and human as laziness, procrastination and performance anxiety. Those flaws are relatable to me, and whatever your flaws are, they will make you relatable to your mentees. In fact, flaws give others hope because they know that you don't have to be perfect to succeed.
You are very busy, but mentorship magically adds hours to your day. I firmly believe that having a mentee will add hours to your busy days because it will increase your personal happiness and give meaning to the path you've taken. Just like exercise adds time to your lifespan, I find that mentoring is never wasted time. Through mentoring I am more self-aware, a better lawyer and I feel great. It's a wonderful and productive way to spend an hour every couple of months.
You are not arrogant, you are awesome. If you are reading this article you will be an amazing mentor. And that's not arrogance. It's simply truth. You'll be helping women succeed.
Mentees Who Avoid "The Ask"
Maybe you are postponing asking someone to mentor you because, like me, you've created mental roadblocks. To avoid "the ask" you may be telling yourself one or all of these excuses:
- She won't do it and I can't handle the rejection.
- I should keep looking for someone better.
- I don't want to be held accountable.
- If I am vulnerable with her, she won't give me a job.
- Next week will be a better time, I won't be as busy.
Rejection hurts, but it's a learning experience. If you ask someone to be your mentor and she declines, just remember that she is human and probably dealing with her own issues (see avoiding "the give" above). Try not to take it personally. Instead, consider it a gift because rejection is great way to strengthen your character. Then press ahead. You'll find a mentor and you'll know she's the right one when you feel the love. It's not the end of the world if the wrong person says no. It's actually a good thing.
Someone better may be out there, somewhere, someplace, but you need to start where you are. So find the best person in your network and ask her to be your mentor. Best is a subjective standard and changes depending on your needs. Maybe you need help with your public speaking skills and you know someone who is always speaking on panels. Ask her to mentor you in that area. If the relationship goes beyond that area, great, but you can ask someone else to help you with other things outside of public speaking. Just start where you are and let the relationship evolve.
You can't see if you are making progress if you don't measure it. A good mentor is going to encourage you to succeed and will probably ask you how things are progressing. You won't receive a grade or be fired if you don't meet a goal. This is a process designed to help you, not to punish you. Again, if you feel that the relationship is not working for you, you can change it or find another mentor. But as with weight loss, it's very hard to know if you are succeeding if you never get on a scale.
Mentors are not employers. They are advisors. If you are looking for a mentor only because you want her to hire you, then you aren't really looking for a mentor. You are looking for a boss. That's fine but you probably want to submit a resume, tell her you want a job and then see if she will interview you. And you should ask your real mentor for advice on how to ace the interview.
You are too busy not to have a mentor. If you are unemployed, you need a mentor even if you are consumed by your job search. If you are billing 250 hours per month, you need a mentor to help you get some balance between your work and personal life before you burn out. If you are unhappy at work, you need a mentor to help you plan your next professional steps. If you are happy at work, you still need a mentor to help you stay that way.
I may not have covered all the excuses, but I think this is a good start. Of course, it's not perfect. If I only published perfect blog posts, I would have no bylines at all. I hope this encourages you to either get a mentor or become one this month.