Success in any profession is a combination of luck, opportunity, and follow through. There is a reason for clichés like this one: “I was in the right place at the right time.” (We always forget to add “and I did the right thing.”) This combination of success factors often occurs as the result of obtaining the right advice or support from the right people when the moment was ripe for you to “seize the day” and take the right action.
We all use the term “mentor” these days, tossing it around haphazardly, without giving it the thought or, indeed, the respect it deserves. In fact, we’ve coined a new word that, frankly, has no meaning of its own, “mentee,” a sort of dependent construction of a word, a mewling infant that cannot survive on its own, without the support of the strong and autonomous word from which it sprang, “mentor.” If there was no such thing as “mentor,” what would “mentee” mean? Nothing at all.
This disparaging aspersion demeans the equally important cog in the mentoring relationship, the person who is now simply viewed as “he upon whom the mentor acts.” In fact, “mentee” replaces a far more authentic title that carries its own weight with one that sounds more like one of the seven dwarfs than a legitimate name, one that refers to a unique person who carries his or her own power and authority.
What word am I referencing?
The word is “protégé.” If you are my protégé, you are my disciple and I accord you the respect that you are due, which, in my world, is great. Anyone who is willing to partner with me to change the way the world gets divorced is courageous, authentic, and gifted. She has made an undeniable commitment to change.
And change is not easy; it’s hard.
A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and forms, and provide us with guidance or training. Early in life, we obtain advice from parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. Later in life, we seek counsel in our internships, and from our employers, coworkers, and colleagues.
Essentially, we learn from those who have come before us. We sign up for trainings, we attend seminars, or we listen to videos from TED Talks to seek wise and prudent direction and counsel.
Few of us think to identify and then pursue the perfect mentor, someone who suits our personality, our perspectives, and our goals, because many of us are insecure, lazy, or too busy.
On the flip side, mentors are far better at latching onto shining stars, protégés with the energy and enthusiasm, who need our direction and counsel. We mentors know that mentoring can boost our self-confidence and rejuvenate our own enthusiasm to go out there and attain our dreams.
I was having lunch one day with Joryn Jenkins, a prolific writer, author, collaborative attorney, and founder of Open Palm Law. I assumed that she had people soliciting her all the time to mentor them. So I asked her, “How often do people ask you to be their mentor?” She laughed, and said, “Never. What do you mean?”
When I explained, she responded, “As a child, you would not go up to your own mother and ask, ‘Will you be my mother?’” It was only then that I realized that the mentor/protégé relationship will almost always begin organically.
Still you can set the stage for mentoring success.
So, How Do You Find a Mentor?
Be bold. Be brave. Sometimes a mentor will just fall into your lap, but that’s unusual. Who do you already look up to, admire, or aspire to be? Invite her for a one-to-one meeting, perhaps a coffee or a lunch. It could even be your boss (but perhaps not your boss, if you’d rather not reveal your insecurities to the person who writes your paycheck).
Ask friends or colleagues if they can recommend someone who is a good fit and then introduce you. Joryn tells her story about visiting Tampa from her home in Washington, D.C. to attend a funeral. The state attorney delivered the eulogy. At the reception afterwards, her boyfriend’s father introduced her, and E.J. Salcines offered her a position before the day was done. (She still says that was the best job she ever had!)
Attend networking functions, show up at alumni events, and join organizations where you are likely to find someone who obviously would fill the shoes of an adviser.
There is no room for self-doubt. Take the plunge! Be the two-year-old; jump right in. You’ll be swimming before you realize that you might have drowned.
Talk the talk…walk the walk! Who has already achieved what you want to achieve? He has laid out the roadmap; you just have to follow it. When you do that, and when he sees you do that, you compliment him and he will notice you.
Start in the industry in which you aspire to grow your career.
Do not limit yourself to mentors who are older. You can also look to peers.
And, for heaven’s sake, don’t limit yourself to just one counselor. We all have room for more than one mentor, even for more than one at a time.
Can you step outside of your industry? Of course, you can. You can learn from success, no matter the industry. Leaders in every industry possess invaluable insight into accomplishing goals, so long as the goals are similar.
Sometimes you will never meet your mentor. Joryn shares “Seth Godin is one of mine; as far as I know, he knows as little as he can about the practice of law and nothing at all about divorce. Does he know about spreading ideas? You bet! Is spreading an idea one of my goals? You bet!”
Once you have found your guide, self-evaluate. 1) What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? 2) What do you want to accomplish in five, ten, or more years? 3) What further skills or training do you need to achieve success?
Return to your advisors and ask them for their thoughts on the results of that self-evaluation.
Next, assess all of that information.
Lastly, follow through! By doing so, you will build a credible reputation, show that you are responsible and reliable, and establish yourself as a leader.
A true mentor doesn’t agree with everything you say, but challenges you. You want a counselor, not a friend. One who gives you advice, solicited or unsolicited, and not someone who is only there to console you. Which leads me to another truism.
The purpose of your relationship is to share ideas. . . to collaborate. Mentoring is not a one way street. “A good mentor learns from his protégé,” says Joryn.
Mentors may be approached by many people. You do not want to go up to someone and say, “Can you be my mentor?” You ask them for their advice by bringing an issue or problem that gives them something to think about. They will value that and take it as a compliment. In turn, this will help establish your relationship with them.
You may be asking yourself, “How can I pay it back or pay it forward?” You do not want to take advantage of your mentors or their time. Follow-up is important. Keep in contact with your mentors to show that you are serious about being a protégé and that you are not just wasting their time. Read a book, article, or blog they wrote, for example, and send your feedback, or recommend another book or article for them to read that is related to the subject of their material.
Toward the end of my lunch with Joryn, I asked her if she had a mentor. To my surprise, she said, “Yes.”
I then asked her if that person was aware that he was her mentor. She said, “No, I don’t think so. I never told him. He was someone whom I had asked to help me start an organization that would heighten professionalism in the legal community through example, education, and mentoring. We‘ve been friends for many, many years now.”
It dawned on me then that I had had a similar experience. I had a case in which I represented a client against a pro se opposing party (she had no attorney). I was curious as to how a judge would handle taking testimony, evidence, etc. from a pro se litigant who does not know the law, and how much leeway he would give that person. So, at a legal function, I went up to a judge and asked him how he dealt with that type of situation.
To my surprise, he invited me to observe a hearing the following week epitomizing precisely that scenario.
I jumped at the opportunity. After the hearing, the judge asked me to approach the bench. He asked for my thoughts on how he had conducted the hearing, how he had treated the parties, and how the parties acted.
Thus, one question can lead to the beginning of a relationship in which two people exchange their views and opinions and it continues with many future discussions about various issues and topics.
Oftentimes, mentors are unaware that they are mentoring an individual. They are trusted allies who are more than happy and willing to share their thoughts, experiences, and advice, and welcome your own, as well. You may have unknowingly been a mentor to someone and have positively affected his/her life. We do not need to put a label on it. Rather, it is all about the give and take in the mentor/protégé relationship and the benefits that each person will bring or take away from that connection.
I wrongly assumed that those who already had a wealth of knowledge and shared that knowledge would not need an advisor. But, it is not about necessity. Life is a continuing education course. As you grow in mind and spirit, you help others grow as well and you better society as a whole. You can seek guidance at any stage of life. There is no wrong time to partner with a new mentor.
Dena was born in West Palm Beach, Florida. She received her undergraduate degree from University of Central Florida in 1997 and her law degree from California Western School of Law in 2001.
Since 2004, Dena has worked exclusively in the area of Marital and Family Law. She is experienced, hard-working and personable in her representation. Having had divorced parents, she appreciates the difficulties of divorce and is sensitive to parents coping with the child(ren)’s anxiety during this transitional period. She can help the clients navigate through the emotional and financial issues to provide realistic desired results.
She is active in the following organizations: The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, Hillsborough County Bar Association, The Stann W. Givens Family Law American Inn of Court of Tampa, Next Generation Divorce, International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, and Carrollwood Area Business Association.