Your ability to find mentors and harness those relationships is a key factor in the success you’ll have in life. If you’re good at this, you’ll save years skipping the conventional steps most people take. You’ll have rare doors open for you, allowing you opportunities few get in life and business.
Ryan Holiday, best-selling author of The Obstacle is the Way, is a great example of this. At age 19, he dropped out of college to study under the author Robert Greene. Without a doubt, this relationship and several others have been influential in propelling Ryan — at age 28 — to where he’s at in his young career.
If you fail to develop mutually-beneficial relationships with people who are where you want to be, you’ll most likely remain average in work and life.
This article will help you find the right mentors and will show you what to do once you begin those relationships.
1.) DROP ALL OF YOUR CURRENT MENTORSHIPS THAT AREN’T MOVING YOU FORWARD
The fastest way to move forward is to stop the things holding you back. Before you start exercising, reduce your junk-food consumption. Once you stop the destruction, you can take one step forward without simultaneously taking one or two steps backward.
Time is a non-renewable resource. You can’t get it back. The wrong mentorships will not only cost you time, but can send your entire life in the wrong direction.
I have made this mistake.
Knowing I wanted to get into Psychology PhD programs after my undergrad, I wanted as much research experience as I could get. I worked under five different professors in their research labs. And although these professors meant well, the hundreds of hours I spent working in their labs didn’t get me any closer to my goals. I ended up getting rejected to graduate school twice.
Results say it all. As Albert Einstein has said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So I dropped all of these professors and started back at ground zero. Ground zero is better than sinking time into a sinking ship. Cut your losses. You’re in control — and your external world will soon match your beating heart.
2.) BE HIGHLY SELECTIVE
“Never take advice from someone you wouldn’t switch places with.” — Darren Hardy
Just because someone is willing to be your mentor doesn’t mean they should be. There are lots of people willing to “impart their wisdom.” But if they aren’t where you want to be, than:
- their advice is irrelevant to you, and
- their advice is probably theoretical, lacking the practicality of someone with tangible experience.
Which is why you need to know where you want to go. If you don’t know where you want to go, anyone could be your mentor. Your criteria is finding people who are where you want to be; or people “closer to the mountain” than you currently are. Actually, people a few steps ahead of you have incredible insights to offer.
3.) SPEAK FROM RESULTS, NOT VAGUE AMBITIONS
“We need to stop telling them, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel,’ Instead we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.’” — Sheryl Sandberg
Knowing the types of people you want as mentors isn’t enough. People are busy. Why should they invest their precious time on you?
If you can provide concrete evidence that you’re serious — and that you’re not starting from square-one (evidence you’re not serious) — your chances of getting help increases dramatically.
There is so much you can do on your own:
- Learn everything you can about your field of interest
- Start building stuff (whether that’s rockets, articles, music, etc.)
- Ask lots of questions to people further along than you
- Be relentless until you start getting some results
Once you have some results, you have something interesting to talk about.
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”―Timothy Ferriss
Similarly, Jeff Goins has said, “The secret to connecting with influential people: ASK THEM.”
You miss every shot you don’t take. You lose nothing by asking and getting rejected. However, you fail by default by not asking at all.
Are you willing to put yourself out there?
Actually, Darren Hardy has said that you can be a coward 99.9305556% of the time (to be exact). You only need to be courageous for 20 seconds at a time.
Twenty seconds of fear is all you need. If you courageously confront fear for 20 seconds every single day, before you know it, you’ll be in a different socio-economic and social situation.
Make that call.
Ask that question.
Pitch that idea.
Whatever it is you feel you want to do–do it. The anticipation of the event is far more painful than the event itself. So just do it and end the inner-conflict.
In most cases, your fears are unfounded. As Seth Godin has explained, our comfort zone and our safety zone are not the same thing. It is completely safe to make an uncomfortable phone call. You are not going to die. Don’t equate the two. Recognize that most things outside your comfort zone are completely safe.
5.) BE IN THE RIGHT PLACES
According to loads of social psychology research, people grow to like others whom they encounter or interact with on a regular basis. Proximity ends up being the number one factor in who you become friends with.
Consequently, you need to be — physically or digitally — close to the people you want to be your friends. If they keep seeing you around, they’ll be far more open to liking you — what psychologists call the mere-exposure effect.
I found my most influential mentor by giving community service at the same place and time as he did. Every week, we would see each other. One day, I sat right next to him and we started talking. I realized he was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I told him about my experience and goals, and quickly a friendship formed.
It started with me asking him if I could help him with his research.
6.) HELP THE RIGHT PEOPLE
“It’s not who you know, it’s who you help.” — Jeff Goins
Similarly, Ryan Holiday has said, “Mentorship is something you do, not something you get.”
The doing of mentorship is service. How can you help this person? The best way is saving them time. They are busy.
You need to care more about their goals than you care about your own. Actually, your number one goal is to help them with their goals — even if you’re doing it for free.
Under promise and over perform. When you get an assignment, blow them away. Do way more than is expected. Make their life as easy as possible. Get them excited to work with you more.
7.) BECOME ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNERS
Real mentorship is mutually beneficial, not one-way. Consequently, the sooner you can become friends with your mentor, the better. When they let you into their world — into their struggles and ambitions — your productivity as a team is on the brink of explosion.
In order to gain this level of trust, you must be discerning. You can’t be self-absorbed. You can’t be fearful of losing the relationship. Instead, you need to think about them. What’s going on beneath the surface?
How can you help?
How can you save them time?
What are they really trying to accomplish? Often, what they’re working on doesn’t accurately reflect their true ambitions.
Such was the case with my mentor. He was a hot-shot young professor who was publishing 5X more than anyone else in his department. But he was getting bored. He wanted to be challenged in different ways. And I could easily tease that out in the comments he made during research meetings. So I’d wait after team meetings until the other research assistants left and ask him questions about it.
Those questions led to long and vulnerable conversations. My mentor and I decided weekly accountability meetings would be mutually-beneficial. We emailed each other our big picture goals, and our goals for the week. During our one-hour power-walks, we would discuss everything.
8.) TAKE ON GREATER RESPONSIBILITY
Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Unfortunately, he had it backwards.
The President of the United States doesn’t have responsibility because he first had power. Rather, he has power because he assumed a huge responsibility.
Most people avoid responsibility. They’d rather someone else carry the load. They’d rather not have to deal with the consequences. Fear of failure (i.e., their ego) stops them from trying in the first place.
However, taking on the right forms of responsibility can put life on easy-mode. It’s like injecting yourself with motivation steroids — urgency and desperation.
If you want to optimize your relationship with your mentors, ask for more responsibility. Do anything you can to make their life easier. Do anything you can to make them look good to their mentors.
During our weekly accountability walks, I told my mentor that I wanted to take things to a higher level. I asked what else I could be doing. He thought about it for a few days and made me the leader of a team of five undergrad research assistants. My learning exploded when I became the teacher — sharing the things I was learning from my mentor with my new team.
9.) AFTER YOU’VE PROVED YOURSELF USEFUL, ASK FOR OVER-THE-TOP OPPORTUNITIES
Once you’ve made your mentor’s life — not just their work — better, there are no limits to the possibilities.
After a few months of an engaging and productive friendship, I made a proposal to my mentor. I told him I would put my personal goals on the back-burner and dedicate 40 hours/week to his research. My goal was to have 20+ papers submitted for publication before leaving for grad school.
He was shocked, and inspired.
He ended up taking me up on my offer and we got to work. It was fireworks for a few months. Looking back, I’m still baffled by how much we got done.
After only a few months working together, I was positioned to get into any graduate program I wanted. I attribute it all to the mentorship, not myself. The right mentorship will change everything for you.
Most importantly, you will change as a result of a good mentorship. That’s the real outcome. You will be a different person, with a new worldview and new abilities.
10.) PAY IT FORWARD
Recently, Jeff Goins, bestselling author of The Art of Work, spent two hours on the phone with me. He taught me so much about the book industry and how to connect with influencers. He even featured one of my articles on his blog. I asked him, “How can I ever repay you for all that you’re doing for me?”
His response was simple: “Pay it forward.”
Never stop seeking help from those who are where you are. At the same time, don’t neglect those who could use your help. As Joe Polish, founder of Genius Network often says, “The world gives to the givers and takes from the takers.”
Never let a goal to be accomplished become more important than a person to be loved. Help others generously — abundantly. Help others without expectation of ever “getting yours back.” Just help other people. Serving others will turn you into a mentor yourself. And you will always find more joy in helping others succeed than in obtaining your own success.
The best mentorships come to those who are already doing awesome stuff. As the old saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
The best mentors are attracted to you by the work you do. And often, they will gladly help you — accelerating your progress.
The biggest challenge to getting mentors is your confidence. Once you truly believe in your vision, amazing stuff will happen for you. When the why is strong enough, the how takes care of itself.