I always had this idea that if I wanted to be a success, I needed to do it myself. I think this goes back to the John Wayne Lone Ranger mentality that successful people do it themselves.
The myth of the self made man holds back too many people. If you’re like me, you probably have the same outlook. You think that in order to “make it,” you have no one to depend on but yourself. This simply isn’t true.
“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”
– Zig Zigler
If you had asked me in college how to find a mentor, I would’ve given you a long blank stare. I’m not sure I would’ve even been able to tell you what a mentor really is. So if you’re already familiar with mentorship, you’re already way ahead of me when I started out.
Think of a mentor as an informal coach. Mentors can come in lots of forms, but they’re always someone at a high level that will be able to give you a ton of value. These are people that have knowledge and expertise in the specific field you want to pursue.
Mentorship is something that has been incredibly important in my journey, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am without it. Having a mentor is a little like time warping your professional experience through guidance and instruction.
THE PROBLEM WITH HARRY POTTER
I love Harry Potter. LOVE. IT. Growing up, I went to as many book launches and movie premiers as I possibly could. I was a regular forum member on MuggleNet, even going as far as owning a MuggleNet sweatshirt. Yikestown.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, HP wouldn’t have been half the wizard without Dumbledore. Dumbledore fostered Harry teaching him skills and life lessons he wouldn’t have learned elsewhere. Mentorship was essential in taking Harry from “the boy who lived” to saving the wizarding world.
Now that I’ve expressed my love for the series, please excuse me while I rip it apart. Harry Potter’s biggest disservice to my generation and the generations to follow is the idea of Harry being chosen for greatness. “The chosen one.” This is something you see over and over in TV and books.
It’s the idea that since Harry was chosen, Dumbledore became his mentor. The idea of being chosen persists through the series like when Slughorn chooses special students to be in his club. This idea of being chosen persists through society and it’s a common problem.
Growing up I was always waiting to be chosen. Chosen to be in the school play, chosen to be liked by people, chosen for greatness. This idea of being chosen persisted from my childhood through college. Honestly I didn’t even realize it was an issue.
You are not Harry Potter. Dumbledore will not choose you. This is important to internalize because in order to get a mentor, you need to choose yourself. You need to be the one to take the initiative and set yourself up for success.
If I were to go back, I would try to actively seek a mentor with a gameplan. Finding a mentor is tricky because you can’t simply ask someone, “Want to be my mentor?” It’s a much more nuanced process. There are several factors that will play into getting matched with a prospective mentor.
The things that helped me find a mentor were:
• Reaching out for informational interviews
• Building trust
• Being reliable (when I worked for someone)
• Taking an active interest in their opinion of the industry
• Being honest & upfront
These are things you should already be doing, which is covered in great detail in other sections. The best way to strike up a relationship with a potential mentor is by simply reaching out. After your informational interview keep in touch with the folks you took out to coffee.
Don’t try and push a relationship on anyone, but if something comes up that reminds you of something from your conversation, send them a quick email. This can also be applied if you have a quality question you can ask.
Always look to add value for everyone you meet in the industry. If you find out someone is working on a shoot and in need of a location that you can help secure, go out of your way to get something set up for them. Always be looking for ways to add value for those you’ve taken out to coffee and met at networking events.
VALUE KNOWLEDGE OVER MONEY
When it comes to finding a mentor the best mentality is to value knowledge over money. Knowing the ins and outs of the industry are something that only comes with experience and guidance. If you are given the opportunity to work a lower-paying job where you will be given hands on experience with someone willing to show you the ropes, TAKE it.
Whenever I actively sought out work, I always look for the job that will give me the biggest opportunity to get my hands dirty. Someone taking you under their wing is invaluable and can’t be quantified with a dollar sign.