How To Work With An Imaginary Mentor (Yes, Really)

Are you looking for a mentor? Do you need career or life advice? And IRL mentor would be great, but if you can't find one - find an imaginary one! YES REALLY.

Do you have a mentor? A kind, capable, incredibly smart human who’s a bit further along and can guide you in the direction you want to go?

Despite my best efforts, I don’t have a mentor. I mean, I know tons to incredible humans but I haven’t quite met anyone IRL who can guide both my personal and professional lives.  Also: I think them mentors I want are either a) too busy b) fictional.

As crazy as it sounds, I’ve found a lot of comfort and guidance in these 100% imaginary, totally one-sided ‘relationships.’ When I’m feeling adrift or not sure of which decision to make, I think about these women. I consider the choices they’ve made and I true my wheels accordingly.

Questions to ‘ask’ your imaginary mentor

  1. How did you get where you are now?
  2. How do you balance creativity, productivity, and money-making?
  3. What does your life outside of work look like?
  4. When do you know you’re ready to ‘level up’?
  5. How do I do this hard thing?

And where do you find your answers?

  1. In books these people have written
  2. In their interviews
  3. On their social media

So who are my imaginary mentors?

Miranda July

Miranda July makes wonderful things: movies, books, art, and engaging, exciting group projects. Her work is positive and totally, totally accessible in a way that a lot of performance art isn’t.
She’s always creating interesting things and using mediums in new ways. She’s not limited to books or movies and I think that just about everyone who interacts with her work walks away a happier human.

I imagine that if she were my mentor and I tried to talk to her about a project “not working with my brand” she’d roll her eyes and tell me that if it made me happy to create a cat/literary calendar, I should just go ahead and do it already.

Are you looking for a mentor? Do you need blogging tips and business advice? And IRL mentor would be great, but if you can't find one - find an imaginary one! YES REALLY.

Maggie is the force behind Mighty Girl and Go Mighty, the life-list-making site that helps you get a little bit closer to living a life you’re excited about.

She’s a great writer with impressive press mentions, but really? I’m amazed by how she’s managed to work with Big Deal Sponsors in a way that feels genuine and raises money for tons of great causes.

I realize that Yes and Yes is sort of an anomaly in terms of content and business model, so I’m always intrigued by other bloggers who are working a-bit-outside-the-box. In my mentoring fantasy, I’d be all “Maggie, I was thinking of partnering with this cool company and charging them $30.”

And then she’d tell me that was foolishness, tell me how much I should be charging, and give me a pep talk while I rewrote my pitch.

Ellen Degeneres
We all love Ellen, right?  Gosh, but she’s wonderful.  What could she teach me?  I want to know more about treading the line between smart and funny, thought-provoking and kind, interesting and fun.

How do you engage people and talk to anyone about anything?  How do you secretly dance behind people without them noticing? Also: what’s the secret to true love?

Are you looking for a mentor? Do you need blogging tips and business advice? And IRL mentor would be great, but if you can't find one - find an imaginary one! YES REALLY.

Leslie Knope

Is Leslie Knope real?  Nope. I care not.  Leslie is incredibly smart and driven, optimistic, and super loyal.   She organizes amazing events, achieved her lifelong dream of being elected to city council, and bettered the lives of everyone around her. She loves her friends and the not-that-objectively-awesome town she grew up in.

If Leslie were an actual human being, I’d want to know how she manages to get so much done and how she manages to maintain good friendships with so many straight dudes.

Also: how does she get her hair to look so good?

Who are your imaginary (or real) mentors?  What do you wish they’d give you advice about?

P.S. Did you know I have a whole Pinterest board devoted to work and career advice? Click here to follow along!

photo by Andrew Neel // cc

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  1. Amy Elizabeth

    I would want to be mentored/be best friends with Emma Stone. She would teach me to be a badass, show me how to maintain the perfect red hair and introduce me to Ryan Gosling (hopefully).

    I also think I would like to be mentored by Jack from 30 Rock. Mostly because I'm obsessed with that show/want to be Liz Lemon.

  2. Alicia Johnston

    If Ellen became your mentor, would that make her…my grand-mentor? I fully support this transition. And hey, why not dream big? Leslie Knope would also be a phenomenal mentor. I love seeing a character on TV who is so pro-female friendship, leadership, going for it, and all those great things!

  3. The Bookwormgiraffe

    Oprah,Naomi Campbell anđ Danielle Laporte oh anđ maria Forleo!love them!

  4. Corin

    My real-but-famous wannabe mentor: Amy Poehler – I love everything about her Smart Girls at The Party website and all of her girl-positive work.
    Imaginary mentor: Olivia Pope (from 'Scandal') – She could teach me how to be a total bad-ass and wear white clothing without spilling food and coffee all over it.
    Also, RuPaul, who would be a fantastic coach on how to be unapologetically yourself and how to come up with the best witty comebacks.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes to all of those! I know several people who share you RuPaul-mentorship fantasy.

      Richard Simmons is one of mine! 😀

  5. Bellacantare

    Yes to Maggie Mason! Her blog is like one big mentor session. Love her. I once ran into her on the streets of SF and totally had a gaping fan moment.

  6. Jazial

    Love Leslie Knope! Amy Poehler herself is pretty great too – her Smart Girls At the Party website ( the best thing to happen to eight year old girls since Blossom, who was totally my imaginary mentor at that age.

  7. LanikaVivian

    My mom, Tina Fey, Michelle Obama, Amy Poehler, Beyonce, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Sarah Von, Leslie Knope.

  8. Jenn@NearandFarMontana

    I've been super lucky to have excellent mentors along the way. I'm a journalists and the daily news business can be faced paced and everyone is struggling to get things done with no time, little pay and praying to not be included in the next round of layoffs, but as an intern, I had an editor who didnt know what to do with me, so I'd wander the newsroom and say, how can I help, what can I do, what don't you have time to do, TEACH ME! And they did. And continue that today.

    Another of my favorites used to be the governor's press secretary in my homestate. I was reading the paper one weekend and they had a profile on her. She used to be a reporter. And at the time I wanted to be Allison Janey in West Wing. So I emailed the real press secretary and asked if I could just come shadow her for a day. She wrote me back and said come on over. She told me that no one had ever taken the initiative to just ask to hang out with her and she is still my most reliable job reference, person to bounce ideas off and just my "what am i doing with my life person."

    They've all been super valuable in my career and personal life and so I've always done all I can to work with up and comers, young journalists who take the time to ask me for my opinion. I'll meet each and everyone who asks for coffee, give them tours of the newsroom, give them resume tips, check their clips, whatever I can to help. I want to leave journalism better behind me and the best way to do it is to pass it on.

    • Erin QS

      Jenn, your response is dated 2013 but I am just now reading it (Hello from the future; 2017.)

      Love your story about the governor’s press secretary & your attitude overall.

  9. Todd Lohenry

    Well, either that, or they are dead. I refer to history's greats as my 'virtual board of advisors' and quote them often…

  10. hungryandfrozen

    Leslie Knope is absolutely an imaginary mentor! I mean that so very sincerely. I love this idea though, I suppose I hadn't really thought about it that way and now I want to think about who else I learn from, from a distance.

  11. Vanessa, Take only Memories

    Miranda July is definitely one of my imaginary heroes. I met her once and it was the most awkward and yet amazing encounter 🙂

  12. Meghan Hartman

    This is the best idea I’ve seen on the internet in a long time. I love that Miranda July video. Now to compile my list of imaginary mentors…

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, thanks so much! It’s a really fun way to navigate challenges!


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