A Good Mentor Is Priceless

I must admit, the first few years of my professional career I thought that all the hype about mentoring would die down. I always thought it would be awkward to ask someone if they would be my mentor; it’s like being the new kid in school and walking up to a table of popular kids and asking one of them to be your friend. Moreso, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in investing time in my professional development; nor would I want to put forth the effort to maintain a mentoring relationship. Turns out, I was young and stupid.

I’m still pretty young, but I’ve grown wiser, with the help of my mentor. If you follow me on twitter, you may remember I was a little giddy when Rey Junco accepted my invitation to be my official mentor (a requirement of my doctoral program).  We’ve been “official” for a little over six months, and I’ve learned a lot about the value of mentoring during that time.

A mentor challenges you. Particularly in regard to my academics, Rey and I have discussed some areas where his expectations (and ultimately my expectations of myself) are higher than the expectations of a certain class or assignment.  I’m actually thankful for this.  Rey warned me that he expects me to learn statistics AND publish in the near future.  Both of these things would happen eventually without his guidance, but I’ll be motivated to accomplish those goals earlier.

A mentor reminds you of your strengths. It’s quite affirming when someone you respect tells you that you’re good at something.  A good mentor doesn’t throw out compliments willy-nilly; he calls it as he sees it.  I know if Rey tells me I’m good at something, it’s a competency that should be on my resume, highlighted in interviews, and exploited at every opportunity for professional gain.  By knowing my strengths, I know where to dedicate my efforts for the best results.

A mentor is a sounding board. I’ve been able to talk through a lot of professional “firsts” with my mentor, including a job offer, potential consulting/research opportunities, and conference presentation proposals.  Sometimes I took his advice, and sometimes I didn’t…but no matter what I eventually realized he actually knew what he was talking about.  Especially as you’re emerging in your field, it’s helpful to have the support and guidance of someone who’s already done it.

A mentor opens doors. Opportunities have come my way simply because Rey nudged them in my direction.  Again, not everything has panned out, but it’s nice to know there’s someone going to bat for me most days.

A mentor is accessible. Many potential mentors are busy people, but the good ones make time for their mentees.  Whether that’s scheduling a phone call weeks in advance or replying to texts from a Miami beach vacation, a good mentor is there when you need him/her.  Hopefully, you use these moments for legitimate professional concerns…not just to ask what you should make for dinner tonight.  Don’t take accessibility for granted.

A mentor shows you who you can be. I chose Rey as my mentor for two reasons: I think he’s smart, and I want to do what he does.  Whenever I see his work referenced on Mashable, or hear him squee on the phone when a paper gets accepted for publication, I see a little window into my future (hopefully).

So, I’m officially on the mentor bandwagon.  I’ll ask anyone to mentor me in an area I need guidance.  And, I jump at the opportunity to mentor a new professional (knowing full well they may not realize they’re being mentored).

How have mentor/mentee relationships affected your professional development?  Do you think there are other qualities/outcomes of mentoring that I missed?