The Homeric Odyssey mentions a character named Mentor. He was the mythological son of Alcimus and was considered very wise. The hero of the Odyssey was of course Odysseus. When Odysseus reluctantly left to fight in the Trojan War (the war of Iliad), he gave Mentor the responsibility of advising and watching over his son and heir Telemachus. Today, Mentor’s name has become associated with that of “a wise and trusted advisor.” Finding a mentor to help guide you, especially early in your personal or professional lives can be the difference between great happiness and success and mediocrity, even failure. Finding a mentor to help guide you through major life transitions can be a key ingredient in a successful transition.
THE POWER OF THE MENTOR
Research in developmental psychology has shown having a mentor is a key element in rising above developmental adversity. Dr. EE Werner conducted a forty-year longitudinal study of all children born on Kauai in the year 1955. One third were high risk from developmental adversity, yet 1/3 of those did well decades later. The influence of a mentor seemed to be most associated with success. In her article "The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society" psychologist Dr Alice Miller argues that if those who have experienced trauma or extreme adversity have at least one person who can serve as an “enlightened helper” or confidant, the negative effects of such experiences can be greatly reduced.
Similarly, meta-analytic research has shown having a mentor to be the single most powerful factor in human resilience. We see the powerfully positive effects of formal and even informal mentorship in academics, athletics, personal and even business development and success. My own experiences studying highly successful and resilient people revealed the power of having “a wise and trusted advisor.” Keith Ferrazzi’s book Who’s Got Your Back? presents a compelling argument for the power of establishing a trusted inner circle of people upon whom you can rely and trust to guide you. He argues that to promote success and navigate through adversity finding trusted relationships that won’t let you fail is essential.
Mentors can be athletic coaches, teachers, family members, supervisors, even professional career and lifestyle coaches. One approach to career and lifestyle counseling is referred to as the "mentorship model" wherein the counselor assumes the role of a “process mentor” using Socratic dialogues to guide clients through important developmental, career, and even personal decisions. Then the couselor encourages the person to seek out "content or technical mentors."
FINDING A MENTOR
Successful mentoring relationships are built upon finding a “good match” between you and the mentor. You will want to find, not just a mentor, but that special mentor whose is best suited to your needs and personality. While that is to be determined on a case-by-case basis it seems competition to find the “right mentor” can be intense. What factors attract mentors? I’m sure there are many, but these are the factors I’ve seen most effective.
1. Optimism – There are few things that are more interpersonally attractive than optimism. It’s magnetic.
2. Initiative – Being a self-starter who is not afraid of rejection or failure. Often times you will have to approach the prospective mentor.
3. Humility – Approach the relationship with attitudes of respect, humility, and gratitude. Leave your participation trophies home. Mentors are not interested in entitled expectations.
4. Reliability – Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.
5. Responsibility – Leave your book of excuses home. The best mentors don’t want excuses. Take responsibility for your actions. When failure strikes, own it and seek guidance on how to correct the problems.
6. Tenacity – A powerful predictor of human resilience and success.
The reader will see these characteristics greatly overlap with the characteristics I’ve previously described as “unforgettable.” This is no coincidence. Attracting the best mentor often means making yourself “unforgettable.
© George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, 2019