It Takes a Village: The Truth About Mentorship
Success Isn't An Accident
Being successful doesn't happen alone. Whether you are Mega-CEO Elon Musk, a mid-level manager, or a person just starting your journey - you'll need guidance, motivation, and a kick-in-the-pants every now and again. You'll need people who have walked your path before you and succeeded just as much as you'll need those who walked your path and failed. Most importantly, you'll need a series of people with a shared interest - you - that intersect your life and help keep you going in the right direction.
Now, I'm the guy in the middle of the proverbial road, and so I may not have earned the right yet to push my definitions of powerful words in our language. Yet, this is my site, and the sky is blue, so here we are:
Success could be defined as the" realization of one's goals via the applications of effort, skill, and tact assuming that these goals have an impact beyond oneself. " Essentially, if you work your ass off and apply your efforts in a direction that benefits more than just yourself, then you are on your way to being successful. Once you've hit that magic number, create your masterpiece, or start a movement - YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL.
Now, what is most often the difference from being on the pathway and getting to the destination is as simple as whom you seek counsel from, or better yet, who desires to counsel you.
Your Mentor(s) are the Catalysts
Inside the human body you possess chemicals known as enzymes. You've certainly heard of them in terms of your digestion and ability to process your food. Yet, enzymes (and coenzymes) in the body are one of the most important parts of your internal environment. They are known as catalysts; substances that are responsible for making things happen. Whether we are examining your digestion, your hormones, and even your muscle mass and fat mass, enzymatic reactions are critical to your survival.
Why does this matter for you, your success, and mentorship?
Because mentors are the catalysts that make things happen inside of you. Sure, they can also open doors, provide opportunities, or help you establish the correct positioning for what happens next. Yet, their greatest function is to activate you, provide stimulus for change, and most importantly, help you re calibrate your targeting system.
In this way a mentor functions like a enzyme. And just as your body has many enzymes for a variety of different tasks - you will need multiple mentors for various disciplines and times in your life.
So, understanding that you shouldn't be searching for A mentor, or worse, THE mentor, is a critical notion for which you must act upon. A mentor can pop into your life even when you feel you aren't looking for their brand of guidance, and yet, your attitude towards this individual could dramatically shape what happens next.
Even if they aren't the big fish you want them to be...
Mentors aren't measured by their "peak" success
Most budding entrepreneurs, trainers, artists, etc. are like cleat chasers ( a term referring to those who will only sleep with athletes). They only want the visibility of being seen with someone that "matters", gain access to their connections, or worst of all, ride their coattails in hopes of enjoying this individuals success.
It's rampant in the training industry. Spend a few hours at a fitness conference and you'll see people swooning over the names of the industry. They'll do anything to position themselves in front of other conference goers, even going so far as running over those who may actually be able of helping them, in an effort to be seen by "someone".
More often than not the "celebrity" of the moment is inundated with a thousand questions, a few resumes, and far too may picture requests - all of which block them from doing exactly what they want to do - get off stage and take a piss. And if you think this is the perfect time to push your personal agenda and get on your idol's radar, well then, you have issues.
Of course it isn't just the field of fitness that has this problem. In fact, I'd argue other professions such as law, medical, and investment/trading are all chock full of people looking, begging, and clawing to take a shit in the stall next to "someone that matters".
This isn't illogical of course. We all want to "be found" in some way. A girl with a beautiful voice can't sing in her basement and hope to get found. She has to go to the places others have been found and keep putting herself out there until someone "who matters" hears her.
Yet, when it comes to mentorship it is important to remember that anyone ahead of you on your journey can offer tremendous value. Hell, even someone running laterally to you, or on a whole different career ladder, can provide tremendous insight to you. It's absolutely critical that you stop trying to poking at those who've already made it to the top. Instead, look up the mountain and see who is still working their way up the face, but have achieved a much clearer view than you.
Ask them what they see from their vantage point.
Ask them what they learned between where they are and where you are. (It's much easier to give advice when you can relate with the position of the person asking your counsel)
See if they are willing to peak back at you every now and again to make sure you're staying on the right path, making logical moves, or not pushing as hard as you could/should.
It's that simple really.
Your mentors don't all have to be all-stars. They don't have to be the best to have ever done it. In fact, it is often the good players that make the greatest coaches. Being less talented often requires a greater attention to detail and a student mentality in order to survive and thrive. Athletes like this: Joe Girardi, Steve Kerr, and John Madden end up becoming elite coaches because they couldn't afford to be the selfish superstar who only has to worry about their own game.
They help you take your beliefs and potential and turn them into results.
Where are your Mentors (Using my life as the story)
Maybe your best mentor is a professor at your University. It's probably someone in management where you work. It could be that person who you once trained, but soon embraced you as family. Or, it could be a person that quietly works beside you, but in subtle ways nudges you to keep your shit together, especially when you're ready to blow the whole damn thing apart.
All of these titles are the mentors in my life. Of course there have been amazing moments with my parents, wise words from close family and friends, but a mentor is someone who continually invests time in you without the innate obligation to do so.
First was Doctor Bauer at Cecil College. He saw a smart kid who turned in great work, but routinely got in trouble for acting out, acting immature, and disrupting classes during my freshman year. He wasted no time ripping me a new ass, telling me to stop worrying about "being cool", and instead focus on handling my shit and getting on my way in life.
It worked and I earned a 4.0 GPA for the two years I was there, which was plenty enough to transfer into the University of Maryland Kinesiology program and launch the life I'm in now.
Then came a client who felt like an older brother from the beginning. Great sessions and improved fitness was my offering, and for him, he took the time to culture me, teach me about a white collar world which I knew nothing. He let me borrow his dinner jacket for events, dates, and introduced me to the amazing world that is whiskey. He and his wife had me over for many dinners, helped me vet girlfriends, and eventually asked me to be the Godfather to their newly born son.
These little nudges and pushes led me to grow out of my immature college years, refine my palate, and most importantly, refine my culture. There is nothing impressive about a guy in his mid-twenties who only knows about sports, video games, and lifting heavy shit.
A fellow trainer has taken me under his wing and helped me grow as a man. A person who has reached forty with many stories to tell, scars to show, and still plenty of faith; he is the type of person who can help you unfuck yourself when you're stuck inside of your skull doing the worst.
Multiple conversations during my collapse into anxiety and depressive tendencies helped keep me closer to the baseline. Reality checks when I was irrational - letting my emotions lead my judgement instead of logic - kept me from saying or doing the wrong things. Lifting advice when my PR's stayed out of reach helped me achieve new highs, and talks about faith, whiskey, and the difficulty of being in love with a woman round out the last few years.
Lastly, has been a manager who once kept me at arm's length. He had to manage a department, grow a business, and deal with a loud, egotistical, but exceptionally talented individual who wouldn't stay out of his office. Bit by bit he allowed for added responsibilities. Points of concern were discussed, coached, and brought to the surface in new challenges, increased exposure, and eventually an elevation to new roles that required much more selflessness, tact, and professionalism.
He pushed me to become a Master Instructor, a mentor, allows me access to management materials, pushes me in front of the most challenging of clients, and references my skill sets and contributions whenever an opportunity presents itself. But, his most important move has been teaching me the value of slowing down and building brick-by-brick instead of trying to suddenly have a tower, and realizing that there is much more beyond fame and fortune that matters in this world.
My goal with sharing my personal stories is to help you see the variety of ways that someone can change your life, mentor you, and redefine your purpose. None of these people are celebrities, although are incredibly successful at what they do. They are most likely to blend in to the crowds unless they are asked to lead and deliver, which they'll all do beyond imagination. Yet, that didn't stop them from becoming my mentor.
This should help you realize that you need to realign your focus and be aware of all those around you who are willing to invest in you, instead of simply searching your industry for someone at the top who might take the time to help you.
Gaining a Mentor (How)
This part is the most simple, most human, and most important part of this entire post. How do you find yourself with someone as your mentor, and how do you keep them?
Show incredible value, incredible human characteristics, and show the potential for growth
Don't be full of yourself. Don't oversell who you are or who you'll become. Be more than willing to put your heart on your sleeve and let the world know that you are here out of a genuine interest to become something special, and leave the world a better place upon your departure.
It's these characteristics that draw your mentor to you instead of you pulling on them. You'll notice that people will take an interest in you when you show them that you're worth their time, and you are good person underneath all of the layers you may have built to protect yourself. They'll see the diamond underneath and help you polish it until you become what you were intended to become.
See, far too many people are constantly reaching out and trying to touch the sky when it comes to mentors. I've done it too. I've willingly paid someone to coach me and help me redirect myself, much like a mastermind program, in an effort to spark more growth in my career. I've walked into offices, or shot messages to friends, all which beg for constructive criticism and feedback. I've petitioned to write for a variety of trainer's sites, asked for advice at seminars, and worked to build a network of people who are willing to take a few seconds for me.
So, yes there is a very active component to becoming successful and having mentors. Yet, if you act like a snake or sound like you are just looking to use someone to get ahead, then you'll often find yourself alone and without guidance. You'll seem like the person who just wants to get ahead and be there instead of earning every step.
Here are your rules of engagement:
Be a great person.
Be a great listener.
Be hungry and full of potential.
Be willing to show your worth.
Be fearless and capable of hearing what hurts.
Be willing to act
Be thankful and willing to reciprocate.
Be capable of turning around and helping someone else.
Do these things and you'll soon find that someone is here for you. Someone is willing to invest their time in you, open doors for you, and challenge you to grow in directions you didn't know you needed to grow in.
As a mentor myself I find it is the trainers who are getting in the fight day in and day out, not complaining about hard it can be, and remain humble enough to ask for help that get most of my attention. I'm always here for anyone who asks, but it is those who have shown me how great of a person they are, how much potential they have, and how hungry they are to realize it that get my fullest effort.
You can get the attention of the mentor you seek. You can find the success you have searched high and low for. You just need to start with yourself and your mission, refine your standards of what makes a mentor special, and stand ready to face adversity with a smile on your face.