I was having a pleasant conversation with a couple of newly-made friends at a social gathering last week when I mentioned “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” — a self-help book that explores the science behind turning bad habits into life-changing ones. As soon as the name of the book dropped, I heard a slight “ugh” followed by an eye-roll. Given how much praise it had been given since its release (and my own personal enjoyment), I was a bit startled and asked: “Have you read it?”
While the friend I was speaking with said she had, she also shared her distaste for “all those self-development books” which, I think, is basically the same over-generalized statement as saying “I hate the French” (why the French? Because I am, and I’ve heard this far too many times). Granted, lots of non-fiction books offer very little to no value whatsoever and expect nothing more than to cash in as much as they can on knowledge that’s already been communicated in the past. But that’s not the case for all of them.
And while many professionals have had the great fortune of having what we commonly refer to as a “mentor” — whether it be your boss, your parents, your friends or anyone else whom you’ve grown to look up to for advice and guidance — what are we left to do if we don’t have anyone in our lives to fall back on? Those books can come in very handy but aren’t enough to fill the void that many young professionals at the beginning and early stages of their careers are dealing with.
We all learn from our mistakes, kiddo.
That’s an undisputed fact — one that I hear quite often whenever this conversation comes about with older professionals. I can’t argue there; in fact, I can think of at least 10 professional mistakes I have made in the past 6 months, most of which have resulted in precious life lessons. But the issue isn’t about a fear of failure. It’s about having no sense of direction.
It’s one thing to make mistakes along the way; to make bad decisions on your path towards a destination that you’ve already set your eyes on. But it’s another to make mistakes and still feel like you’re not going anywhere — or worse, not knowing where to go in the first place. Every decision I have made, both good and bad, have been made purely based on either instinct, assumptions, or (and I’m slightly ashamed to admit this) movies I’ve watched. Luckily enough, it seems I am not alone.
In a nutshell: we’re f — king lost.
We don’t expect a mentor to tell us what to do.
The misconception surrounding young professionals who are dissatisfied and close to putting up ads on Craigslist calling out for their own mentor is that we expect them to solve all of our problems by telling us what to do. I don’t believe it to be the case (although, again, arguments can be made for either side). There’s a difference between telling someone what to do, and guiding someone towards the decision they need to make in order to move forward in the direction they aspire to go (ahh, there it is again).
Perhaps all we need is to sit through an hour-long session with a psychiatrist so we can figure out our own problems by simply talking about them, laying comfortably on a couch while looking up at the ceiling and daydreaming of our ideal career. But perhaps not.
What we need isn’t just someone who can listen… We need someone whose life experiences we can relate to; whose professional advice is based on the decisions they have made themselves, and whose life lessons we can learn from and reflect upon. Someone who can see what we may not be able to — values we can add, thoughts we should share and, in some cases, our leadership potential.
What about all those young “self-made” millionaires? Many of them didn’t have a mentor…
It’s surprisingly common for people to judge others based on the tip of the iceberg — what they see — without any context to base their judgement on — everything else that’s submerged under water. A good example of this is the coverage of the so-called “self-made” millionaires and billionaires of the world; those who have supposedly managed to make it on their own, particularly when coming from underprivileged social backgrounds.
With so much information on so many different channels readily available, namely social media, it’s easy to start comparing what they’ve done with where we’re at, especially if they’re the same age as we are. But comparing two individuals of the same age and their respective career is essentially the same as comparing apples and oranges: their contexts and circumstances are so radically different, a comparison between the two becomes irrelevant.
Everything from our childhood onward — where we grew up, how we were raised, the types of friends we hung out with at school, the areas of interest we chose, the social influences we’ve let into our lives, our first internships and jobs, the “mentorship” (or lack thereof) from our bosses at work — all of those circumstances add up and, ultimately, shape our very own lives.
But that isn’t to say we have no control over anything that happens to us, of course. We do. There’s just a whole lot more to a book than its cover.
So I hear you want a mentor? Go out and get one.
Regardless of whether you’ve met them in real life or in your dreams, there’s got to be at least one person out there who you admire the most. Once you figure out who that person is, Tim Ferriss has a good exercise for you to try based on an example he shares in his “4-Hour Work Week”.
Tim on emailing influential people:
In one of his classes, Tim asked his students to email at least 2–3 highly influential people from Silicon Valley or other places and have them answer one or more questions. But before they could do that, they were advised to look up everything there was to know about that person; finding out their personal email address, visiting their blog (if applicable), reading through articles about them and, eventually, firing up their Gmail inbox.
Back in the day, Tim would start his email with a couple of paragraphs to show that he’d done his research, and then follow up with a question as simple, yet profound, as:
“When were you the happiest in your life?”
This wasn’t meant to be a desperate email begging for their mentorship or a job… The goal, Tim says, was to build a meaningful dialogue so they would be more inclined to answer future emails.
Positive thinking: Get over yourself.
If you’re in the habit of throwing pity parties every time something bad happens to you, you’re not alone. Luckily, John Bishop is here to give it to us straight in his book “Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life” (I suggest you get the audiobook for a more immersive and effective experience).
Negative self-talk can bring us down in unimaginable ways. And the opposite certainly holds true. In his book, Bishop leads us through a series of 7 assertions:
I am willing.
I am wired to win.
I got this.
I embrace the uncertainty.
I am not my thoughts; I am what I do.
I am relentless.
I expect nothing and accept everything.
This is obviously not the answer to everything, but it does provide a bit of needed mental support.
Finding a mentor is almost like finding a new business idea — don’t expect it to fall on your laps, but be ready to seize the opportunity to make something of it when you do find it. Because you know what?