When I launched Mentors and Masterminds, my goal was to answer to a common question among administrative professionals: “Where can I find a mentor?” I imagined myself as the behind-the-scenes administrator of an organically thriving community where current and former administrative professionals hooked up for mentoring “dates” and ultimately found “true love” in the form of long-term mentoring relationships: a career-oriented Match.com, if you will. I hoped, too, that community members – particularly those more knowledgeable than I – might be inspired to share their own stories, thereby creating a self-sustaining learning community. Like the Field of Dreams, I believed that if I built it, the community would come.
When I was first planning the site, I consulted my Toastmasters colleague, website builder and marketing guru Heather Turner, DTM for suggestions on how to build the site. I got my first whiff of trouble when she described her own experience as a member of a similar site for small business startups: “The problem I’ve noticed,” she said, “is that everyone wants to have a mentor, but no one wants to be a mentor. When I was a mentor on the site, I was deluged with requests, because there were on average 1 mentor for every 150 mentees who wanted help.”
To answer the question “Where can I find a mentor?”, I would have to answer another question first: “Where do mentors come from? “That should be easy enough to solve,” I thought, “I’ll just create a category called ‘co-mentoring’ and encourage everyone to participate, giving us roughly equal numbers of mentors and mentees.”
After the launch in October 2016, it quickly became clear that, if I wanted my new site to mature into the community I had envisioned, there was a need to do more: to not only encourage members to step up as mentors to each other, but also to show them how. This kind of thought leadership was hardly what I’d signed up for. I just wanted to be the “techie-behind-the-scenes”. Who was I to offer myself as an authority on mentoring?! As I began to wrestle with this question, I was paralyzed by Impostor Syndrome. The terror was not unlike that which I experienced when, nearly 18 years ago, I was a brand-new mom faced with the care of a healthy but helpless newborn boy: what have I gotten myself into?!
On the other hand, there was also a promise implicit in the launch of my site, and I wasn’t about to leave that promise unfulfilled. To help grow the community, I needed to become a mentor’s mentor. Having identified the problem, I knew I could tackle it. After all, I’ve survived eighteen years of motherhood…and I’ve done a damn fine job of it, if I do say so myself. In fact, parenting taught me more than a few good mentoring lessons along the way, lessons like:
- You don’t need to have all the answers to be a mentor.
- In mentoring, your greatest weaknesses become invaluable assets.
- You can’t mentor everyone, and that’s okay.
The other thing that keeps me going is this: I deeply believe that everyone has creative potential, and that there is no more important work than encouraging the development of that potential. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Rather, we must challenge ourselves and others to thinking and doing things in new ways. There is no more powerful tool in this endeavor that the personal encouragement of a mentor…and a friend.
Someone needs the gifts that only you have to offer, so join me as I explore the joys, rewards and methods of becoming a mentor.
“Be the Mentor” is a series in which I explore the joys and benefits of stepping up to be a mentor, and offer my insights on how to do it well. “Where Do Mentors Come From?” is the first article in this series.
Be the Mentor is published on the first Wednesday of every month at www.mentorsandmasterminds.com.
 My personal inspiration was actually a less-known dating site, lavalife.com. Met my S.O. there in July 2004 and 14 years later we are still going strong! It’s less about the how and where you meet, and more about the time you invest into finding a good match and creating a great relationship.