This post is brought to you by career-improving wisdom, accidental mentors the world over, the letter F, and the Forté Foundation.
What do you picture when you picture a mentor?
For a long time, I pictured someone a couple of decades into their career, beckoning me to join them in their corner office for a chat. In this fantasy, they’d push a tray of tea and snacks towards me and ask me about my “passion” and where I saw myself in ten years.
And sometimes that is what a mentor is like!
But just as often, the best career advice we might get – some of the best ‘mentoring’ per se – comes from peers, a just-for-the-summer bosses, or someone you meet in passing at a backyard barbecue.
Today, I’m partnering with the Forté Foundation, a non-profit that helps more women enter the business world and pursue their MBAs. Forté’s MBA Launch program is a valuable mentoring resource that supports women as they apply to business school.
Because let’s be real: navigating educational and career choices can feel overwhelming. Who wouldn’t want some support and experience in their corner?
3 Pieces Of Mentor Wisdom + Their Unlikely Sources
1. “You are good enough to do this”
Professor Dwight Purdy was the hardest, most intimidating teacher in the English department. In fact, when I found out I needed one of his classes to meet a requirement for my degree, I appealed to the Registrar to get out of it.
I tried to convince them that a class I’d already taken (with, let’s be honest, a much easier professor), met those requirement. No such luck.
Professor Purdy required every student in his upper level classes to meet with him once a semester to discuss their work. I steeled myself for our meeting, emotionally prepared for one million red ink edits.
Instead, he handed back my essay and said “This is really good. Have you considered graduate school?” And I yelped “Professor Purdy! I tried to get out of your class because I thought it would be too hard!!!”
He chuckled – I imagine I was not the first student to say this – and said “Sarah, you are good enough to do this.”
Sometimes I still try to get out of doing hard, scary, challenging things. It’s so much easier to just do things I already know I’m good at!
But then I remember how I was once needlessly frightened about something I was, in fact, pretty good at. And maybe I’m good enough at this other thing, too.
(P.S. That thing YOU want to do? I bet you’re also good enough to do it.)
2. “They’re not all going to be home runs”
Starting your writing career at a newspaper is a mixed blessing.
Pros: you will learn to write on tight deadlines and get all the good gossip first.
Cons: you will have to write on tight deadlines and maybe you can’t produce The World’s Most Moving Article when you’ve only got 25 minutes.
The first summer I interned at my hometown newspaper, I spent spent 70% of my time writing as quickly as possible and the other 30% of the time worrying about the quality of my writing.
Sometimes my articles were met with praise and glowing letters to the editor. Sometimes it was crickets and a terse note from Edna in Tamarack, MN pointing out that I’d used a semicolon incorrectly.
Whenever the latter occurred, I’d fuss and sulk and edit and polish my next piece. I hoped to avoid Edna’s wrath and attract more praise. Because if a piece of writing is published and not met with immediate adulation, what is the point even???
One day, my editor happened up me doing a third round of edits on my write up of the city council meeting. “I think if I rewrite the lede it’ll be really good,” I sighed.
My editor tilted her head and smiled. “They’re not all going to be home runs, ya know,” she said before headed towards the breakroom for more coffee.
I realize now that what Ann probably really meant was, “Sarah, no one expects your city council report to win a Pulitzer. Stop obsessing about it and just hand it in; the proofreader is sick of waiting.”
But what I took away from her comment was the fact that – simple by the law of averages – not everything we create or attempt is going to be amazing. The pitches we write, the applications we send, the professional relationships we try to develop – they won’t all stick.
All we can do – if we want to continue with the baseball metaphor – is keeping going up to bat and swinging our hardest. Eventually you’ll hit a homerun.
3. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”
When you’re a 21-year-old P.R. intern at an ad agency you are usually given the less fun tasks.
One of the tasks that fell to me was placing follow up calls to everyone we’d sent press releases to.
I spent hours every day calling newspapers and magazines, asking very busy, important people if they’d received our press release about the new molded hull of that speedboat and if they were planning on writing about it.
It was, in a word, uncomfortable.
I felt like I was bothering people! Nobody particularly wanted to talk to me! They all had things they’d much rather be doing!
After a week of watching me flinch and squirm at my desk, my supervisor called me into his office for a “How are things going?” lunch.
I told him that I liked the part where I wrote press releases. I loved the part where I got free tickets to all the events we were promoting. I didn’t particularly enjoy the part where I called strangers every day and nagged them; it made me uncomfortable.
He nodded with understanding and tilted his head. “I get it. But you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more once you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Geoff was just saying I needed to grow a thicker skin and get used to placing follow-up calls. But his advice is applicable to, oh, PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING.
Most things worth doing make us uncomfortable! Sending an email to that cutie on Tinder, applying to graduate schools, negotiating for higher pay, or standing up for your beliefs.
The sooner we can be okay with being uncomfortable, the sooner we can start moving towards what we want. Click To Tweet
But I want to hear from you! Have you ever worked with a mentor, ‘official’ or otherwise? What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?