“Our chief want in life,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “is somebody who will make us do what we can.”

When it comes to our careers, that person could be a friend, a colleague, or a manager. But more often than not, it’s a unique person who fulfills a crucial role in self-development: a mentor.

Every week, I receive emails from listeners intent on finding this person for themselves. They know they want to grow, they know they need help, they know they want to be in partnership with someone, but they don’t know how to find this mythical figure — or what to do once they succeed in finding them.

I’ve learned a lot about mentorship over my career, both by being mentored and by mentoring others. I’ve developed a handful of core principles that make mentorship fruitful and sustainable. I’ve realized that mentors can make the difference between failure and success, between hope and disillusionment, but that the default dynamic between a mentor and a mentee often gets in the way of that magic.

I’ve learned that we have to shift our mindset about mentorship in order to make the most of it.

So in this article, we’ll be exploring those principles, mindsets, and techniques to cultivate the best kind of mentorship — the kind that doesn’t just dictate your path, but helps you discover it for yourself so that you can, in Emerson’s words, actually do what you’re capable of doing.

It all starts with some soul-searching.

Understand what you need.

Finding a mentor is not a general aspiration. It’s a specific goal. It’s a relationship that centers on a very focused need — the need to grow as a professional in concrete ways.

So the first step in finding a mentor is taking the time to truly understand what your needs really are.

Why do you want a mentor? What specifically do you want a mentor to teach you? What are the gaps in your knowledge and skill set? Which goals are you pursuing that would benefit from having a guide along the way?

These are the questions that kick off the search. Until you answer them, looking for a mentor will tend to be scattershot, inefficient, and probably unfruitful. You have to know yourself before you can really be taught.

On the mentee side of the equation, there are a handful of areas that benefit from mentorship:

  • Industry-specific insight
  • Knowledge about the world
  • Functional expertise
  • Talent, ability, and skill
  • Specific projects and goals
  • Intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth

On the mentor side of the equation, there are a handful of assets that address those mentee needs:

  • Professional experience
  • Industry expertise and insight
  • Personality, identity, and values
  • Relationships and reputation
  • Beliefs and mindsets
  • Intellectual, emotional, and spiritual insight
  • A willingness to nurture talent and share resources

Prospective mentors are people who can potentially offer these assets in a way that addresses a mentee’s needs.

In most cases, these two lists will need to line up on more than one dimension to create a good match.

For example, you might really benefit from being mentored by a veteran in your industry with tons of relationships, but if you don’t share the same values or personality traits, it’s probably not going to be an enjoyable relationship.

At the same time, you might vibe with someone who shares your traits and sense of humor, but if they don’t have the right experience to guide you professionally, then that person is probably more of a friend than a mentor.

And it’s always possible that you find someone who is down to mentor others and has a ton of resources to share, but can’t teach you what you need to learn at this moment.

To find the right mentor, you have to have a firm grasp of what you want, what the other person can offer, and how these two line up.

You might glean that information from a LinkedIn profile or stumble across it in a coffee meeting. You might seek it out from a career coach or discover it working side-by-side with a colleague.

But either way, finding a mentor begins by finding yourself — or, rather, by finding the parts of yourself that would benefit from guidance and partnership.

If you don’t have a clear handle on where you want to develop, you’ll hit a few pitfalls.

First, you’ll spend time casting a wide net for a vague concept of a prospective mentor.

I see this happen frequently with people who believe they need a mentor because every successful person seems to have one, but haven’t done the introspection to figure out why. They usually end up spinning their wheels, questioning their value, or finding themselves in unfulfilling relationships.

Second, if you do land a mentor without doing this work, the relationship will struggle.

Strong mentorship depends on a set of clear goals, issues, and areas to focus on, with the mentee taking the lead. It’s difficult to guide someone who doesn’t know how and why they want to be guided.

And third, you’ll begin to pin your professional hopes on the arrival of a hypothetical person.

But mentorship doesn’t work that way, even when it’s good. When you search for a guide before you study yourself, you often end up outsourcing that introspection to someone else — or the idea of someone else — even someone who will never ultimately come along.

So take the time to ask yourself what you really need. Be specific. Be bold. Be honest. If it helps, write these needs down on paper. Discuss it with trusted friends and colleagues, and use those conversations to clarify your mentorship goals. That process might take weeks or even months, but it’s time well spent. It’s the step that will make your search meaningful.

It’s also an ongoing process. As you progress in your career, your needs will evolve. You’ll find new goals, identify fresh weaknesses, and take on bigger challenges that will make you value different qualities in prospective mentors. So this introspection is not a one-and-done thing. It’s an important layer to your entire life.

Identify prospective mentors.

Once you know what you’re looking for, it becomes much easier to identify your prospective mentors. But how do you actually find them? And how do you approach them? Let’s talk about this more tactically for a moment, because this is where the rubber meets the road.

Mentors can come from anywhere, but they tend to come from three main sources.

Existing relationships

These are people you meet through introductions from your network, events organized by friends and colleagues, or casual interactions that arise organically.

Connecting with someone through an established network is usually the most efficient way to meet a mentor, because it reduces legwork and pre-vets you through the network. That built-in trust and intimacy increases the chances that you share the same values and are working toward a common goal.

Online social networks

These networks include the obvious platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

But they also include a number of other places we don’t usually think of as watering holes for prospective mentors: forums, comments sections, online classrooms, and so on. Basically, anywhere that people with common interests and values congregate online is a potential mentorship hub. In some ways, the more obscure the hub, the more promising the mentoring possibility becomes, because a certain intimacy and trust develops in these subcultures.

It’s also worth remembering that an online social network can be a tool to find a mentor through your existing relationship (e.g., mutual connections on LinkedIn) or a tool to find a mentor outside of your network (e.g., tweeting at a leader in your industry for the first time).

Institutions, communities and other groups

These circles include schools, certification classes, workshops, meetups, hobby circles, book clubs, athletic leagues, religious organizations, and so on.

These groups don’t need to be explicitly tied to your career in order to be valuable mentoring grounds. In fact, some of the best mentoring relationships first develop around an unrelated interest, and then later around career goals. When these groups merge with online social networks — like a book club with a Facebook group — they become even more valuable, because they create a bridge between the online and offline world.

Whatever the sphere you’re exploring, you’ll then use the dimensions we mentioned above — mentee needs and mentor assets — to identify the right people.

Connecting with Mentors

Once you identify a prospective mentor, there are only two options for reaching out: getting an introduction, or reaching out yourself. This applies to both online and real-life interactions.

Introductions

Whenever possible, get an introduction. This, of course, is a good rule of thumb for all relationship-building.

Asking for an introduction to a prospective mentor will, on the whole, yield better results than reaching out cold. The introduction doesn’t have to mention your interest in “finding a mentor” (and probably shouldn’t). It only needs to put you in contact with the person you want to meet. The mentorship layer will come later. (More on that in just a moment.)

(Of course, being able to secure an introduction is a function of good relationship-building overall. To learn more about how to develop a thriving network, I highly recommend checking out our six-minute networking course.)

An introduction from a mutual contact should include a few elements that are tailored to the relationship in question:

  • A brief overview of who you are and what you do
  • What specifically you’re looking to learn or achieve
  • Most importantly, why you’re asking to reach out to this person right now.

The introduction can also include why the other party should meet you, and what possibilities could come of this relationship (mentoring aside). But the important thing to communicate in an introduction is the relevance, need, and value of this new relationship at this moment.

To make that happen, I recommend preparing a little introduction to send along to the person introducing you. That introduction should cover the above elements, along with any other information you’d like to include.

This has three huge advantages. First, it saves the introducer time and energy. Second, it helps you control how your prospective mentor will meet you. And third, it shows your prospective mentor that you take your relationship-building and social etiquette seriously.

This kind of introduction can also happen in person. In that scenario, it will usually be less involved. It could be a friendly “Hey, you should know each other” at a cocktail party, or a “Hey, you guys are in the same industry” at a rock-climbing gym. From there, it will be on you to supply all of the details.

But the function is the same: you’re being introduced by someone who already knows your prospective mentor, which goes a long way in accelerating the relationship.

Cold Reach

If an introduction is impossible, then the next best option is to reach out to a prospective mentor on your own.

While an introduction is always better, I actually find that a cold reach — whether it’s sending an email, picking up the phone or walking across the room to introduce yourself — can be just as effective. In fact, sometimes the randomness of a cold communication can work in your favor, because it highlights your initiative even more.

A cold communication should include all of the same elements as an introduction. The only difference is that you’re the one sharing them. The prevalence of email, LinkedIn messages, Facebook chat, and personal websites has made this kind of connection perfectly welcome and acceptable. In fact, these are some of my favorite emails to receive — as long as they’re clear, compelling, and respectful. (It’s also true that other people feel differently, or simply can’t engage with strangers, which just means they’re not a fit for mentorship right now.)

It’s helpful to remember where mentors tend to come from, but it’s more important to realize that they can come from anywhere.

Chloe, a sous chef, discovered this when she decided to begin laying the groundwork to open her own restaurant. Once she embraced the idea of being a restaurateur, she began to identify all of the areas she needed to grow: marketing, finance, operations, and fundraising. Each of those areas had its own discipline, and would require new advisors to really master.

As Chloe started sharing her goal and her needs, she found herself learning from people she’d never think of traditional mentors.

She’d be eating breakfast in a family-owned diner she loved, for example, and she’d chat up the waitress about how they train their staff. The waitress would introduce her to the manager, who pointed her to some great online tools she used to manage the restaurant’s inventory and scheduling. Or she’d be chatting with someone in line at a food truck, and they’d tell her about an up-and-coming chef whose Twitter recipes she needed to study. By soliciting a tiny bit of help from every person she met, Chloe suddenly found herself surrounded by mini-mentors.

The fact that they came from places she would never have expected actually made them more valuable, because she wasn’t competing for their attention. And the fact that she didn’t call them “mentors” made their relationship less formal and more intimate.

Mentors are crucial. But we don’t always need one single mentor, and we don’t always need one person who’s all mentor. We can have a mentoring layer to several different relationships.

We can open ourselves up to learning from multiple people in different ways. When we do, we find the “mentor” inside of everyone we meet. Sometimes when we fixate on finding someone with all the traditional qualifications of an advisor, we miss the opportunity to be advised in smaller doses by a number of different people who can guide us.

Of course, the question now becomes: How do you actually begin a mentorship relationship? How do you turn a new contact into an advisor? If someone engages, what’s the next move? What do you actually say to a prospective mentor?

The answer, paradoxically, is to put your mentorship ambitions on hold for a moment, and focus instead on the other person.

Create value before you ask for it.

The most foundational principle of all great relationship-building is to create value before you ask for it. This is generosity in action, and it’s the engine of all good networking.

That engine applies to relationships in general, but it especially applies to prospective mentors. If you find a way to add to someone’s life — whether it’s something small, like a list of recommendations for their upcoming trip, or something bigger, like an introduction to a customer — you instantly create a connection that is based on a spirit of giving.

This is important for two reasons.

First, because creating value without the immediate expectation of return is hands-down the best way to create a strong relationship.

Generously helping someone else without that expectation means setting aside your immediate goal of being mentored (although this can still be part of your overall motivation, it should not be part of your immediate expectation), and focusing instead on what the other person wants and needs.

When you do, you create goodwill, trust, and capital that will set up — and ultimately make possible — a mentoring relationship down the line.

Simply put, people want to help people who want to help them. But you have to create that dynamic first if you’re the one establishing the relationship.

Second, because creating value for a prospective mentor signals that you are worthy of investment.

This is about more than just creating goodwill. It’s about conveying character and value worthy of mentorship.

When a prospective mentor is debating whether to advise you, they’re asking themselves whether the energy and experience they have to offer will create a return on investment. That return might be emotional fulfillment, new business opportunities, or the chance to create a legacy. But whatever form it takes, a mentor will only be able to judge that return based on the way you behave at the very beginning of the relationship.

If you ask to be mentored immediately — making it about you first — you signal that their investment will be primarily focused on you.

But if you help them before you ask to be mentored, you signal that you understand how value gets created and expanded. You show that you can turn their mentorship into larger benefits for you both, and that you are a person who will capitalize on the mentorship they would provide.

Forms of Value: Case Studies in Generosity

So what can a prospective mentee really offer a mentor? How can someone looking for guidance from a mentor add to their life in a meaningful way?

Once again, there is no textbook answer. There is no correct way to create value, no perfect form of generosity. But some case studies will shed some light on the possibilities.

Emily, a management consultant in the financial-services industry, once met a senior partner at her firm on a conference call. She knew this partner was a talented advisor, and she sensed that she was a warm person. Eager to rise up in her firm, she wanted to explore the possibility of a mentoring relationship with the partner.

So Emily began sending her a roundup of the most important banking news each week. It took her about an hour to prepare, and probably saved the senior partner multiples of that in her busy schedule, instantly creating relevant and concrete value.

After a couple months, the senior partner booked a call with her. They hit it off, the partner began staffing her on interesting projects, and they began a weekly check-in that gave Emily the guidance she needed to grow in her career.

In a very different world, Troy, a young novelist, happened to meet one of his favorite authors at a book fair reading.

They had a friendly conversation and exchanged information, but Troy — who was struggling to finish his second novel — wasn’t sure how to ask for the advice he so desperately wanted. So he decided to stop focusing on himself.

After learning that his colleague was doing research on a new book — a crime thriller set in a small mining community — he began sending the author every article, essay, or book he happened to find on the topic. Along with the research, he’d include two or three respectful ideas about the setting, character, and plot potentials of the story. For six months, he basically became an informal researcher and second brain on the project.

Those emails grew into a lively correspondence, which led to regular phone calls, which organically paved the way for the author to ask about Troy’s work.

Then, and only then, did Troy explain what he was struggling with in his own work. His new colleague — now naturally stepping into a role as mentor — discussed his book, offered some perspective, and paid him back in kind.

Stories like these remind me that value doesn’t have to be massive or life-changing in order to be valuable.

In fact, it’s sometimes the small gestures — a little extra help with research, a three-line email with an interesting idea, even the willingness to simply listen — that mean the most.

Our careers are comprised of these details, and getting help with them can make a huge impact. It can also open a window into something more significant than the assistance itself — a novel idea, a crucial insight, a game-changing piece of data, or a meaningful connection with another human.

But we have to choose to create that value before we ask for it. We have to look for those opportunities. We have to figure out what the other person needs, and find a way to meet that need given our current resources.

Sometimes we’ll be in possession of that value. Sometimes we need to do some work to develop that value. Either way, we have to share it before we look for the mentorship potential in any given relationship.

Mentorship is not a one-way street. We have to be willing to put our desire for mentorship on hold in the beginning in order to secure it down the line.

In some cases, you might have to invest in the relationship for a long period of time — months, maybe years — before the benefits of mentorship come back to you. The more important and scarce the prospective mentor, and the newer and less experienced you are, the more you’ll have to invest upfront.

This can be a frustrating dynamic, but it’s a reality of relationship-building. The upside to that reality is that with enough generosity and dedication, you can connect with people who are far more advanced than you are professionally — if you’re willing to put in the work.

Let’s assume that you put in that work for long enough to create a relationship that could include mentoring. What’s the next move? How do you actually transition from creating value to receiving it?

Ask for advice first.

Once you’ve established a productive relationship built on generosity and value, a window will open into the possibility of mentorship. And the best way to explore that window is to ask the person for a piece of advice on a particular goal or problem.

A request for advice is the bridge from a more general networking relationship to a more specific mentoring relationship.

Why?

First, because the request signals that you are open to being guided.

A mentor might offer their wisdom unasked, but in most cases, you’ll have to articulate your interest in being mentored to create that relationship.

Second, because asking for advice creates an opportunity for the other person to help you in a way that isn’t overly demanding or burdensome.

A piece of advice is relatively easy to provide (as opposed to, say, an introduction to a client or a three-hour consultation). If the conversation goes well, then you’ve established the mentoring dynamic without asking for too much, and you can grow into deeper types of mentoring over time.

Third, because soliciting advice allows you to take the mentoring relationship on a trial run.

What is it like to work with this person? Do you like their advice? Do you find it helpful? Do you trust them? Do you have a rapport? Do you enjoy learning from them?

It’s hard to know whether there’s a true mentoring fit until you test it out, and the easiest way to test it out is by asking for a small piece of advice.

In other words, soliciting guidance serves both of you. It allows you to signal that you’re interested in being mentored, and it gives the other person a chance to show you what kind of mentor they would be. From there, you can decide if you want to pursue the relationship.

A request for advice should be:

  • Specific (not vague or too open-ended, and clearly focused on moving closer to a concrete goal or solving a particular problem)
  • Manageable and appropriate (not overly demanding, relatively easy to provide, within the scope and nature of your relationship)
  • Genuine (asked in a spirit of curiosity, openness, and interest in putting the advice to good use, not just designed to advance the relationship)

In other words, you want to ask for advice that addresses a very specific need, is easy to fulfill, is respectful of their role in your life, and leads to ideas you are willing to embrace.

From there, if you decide that you do want to pursue a mentoring relationship — because you like and trust the guidance this person has given you — then you need to go one step further.

Once you ask for advice, you must follow through on it.

Following through on advice means acting on the guidance in a meaningful way. It doesn’t mean blindly accepting or acting impulsively on it. It means embracing it, processing it, understanding it, and applying it in your own way.

For example, If a mentor tells you to develop a concrete PR roadmap before you launch your prototype, then develop that roadmap. If the person tells you to take some time to figure out what your priorities are before accepting a job offer, then take that time to reflect. You might create a version of that roadmap that best serves your needs, or self-reflect in a way that is meaningful to you, but you have to genuinely consider their guidance.

Whatever the piece of advice is, you must follow through and put it into action. You then have to share the impact of that advice with the prospective mentor.

This is how you communicate to the other person that you are genuinely interested in their guidance, that you are able to turn that guidance into concrete value, and that you understand the importance of communicating how that guidance actually plays a role in your life.

This is the crucial step in securing a mentoring relationship. It’s a step that most people — even strong networkers — frequently miss. In the pursuit of guidance, they forget to reflect the fruits of that guidance back to the person who offered it. It’s a huge failure of relationship-building, and it’s completely avoidable.

If you ask for advice, find it valuable, act on it, and then share the results with your mentor, you create the bridge from offering value to receiving value. In fact, you both create the bridge: the mentor by providing that early guidance, the mentee by embracing it and reflecting it back.

But that bridge is not a one-time effort. It’s a dynamic that needs to be reinforced over time to create deeper levels of mentorship. Which brings us to our next principle.

Use your mentorship to continue creating value.

As we saw, creating value for someone is one of the most powerful ways to explore the possibility of a mentoring relationship. But the way to really cement that relationship is to continue creating value for that person, by putting their assistance to its best possible use.

Devon, a lab-equipment salesman, once told me a story that showed me how powerful this mindset can be.

Facing a steep new sales target at his company, he decided to reach out to Alan, an older salesman with decades of experience whom he had met at an association conference.

Knowing he’d have to open new accounts to meet his goal, he asked Alan if he had any advice on getting a foot in the door at a major biotech company. Alan gave him some general advice and helped him craft the perfect email to set up an appointment, which was all the more generous because Alan was between jobs and looking for his next position.

In his first meeting at the biotech company, Devon built the foundation for a sales relationship, and scheduled some time to show the team his product line. But he also picked up a small gem in that conversation. He learned from the executive he met with that their current equipment provider had been neglecting them as a customer, probably because that company had lost its head of sales. It was an interesting piece of industry gossip, and he filed it away.

After the meeting, Devon sent Alan an email telling him how the meeting went. He also mentioned what he had learned about the open head of sales role at the other equipment company. Alan happened to know an executive there, and thanked Devon for the tip. A few weeks later, Devon nailed his follow-up meeting, and became the biotech company’s new vendor.

A month after that, Alan called Devon to tell him that he had accepted an offer to be the new head of sales for Devon’s competitor. He would never have known there was an opening if Devon hadn’t given him the heads up. Now, when Devon doesn’t offer a product his client needs, he throws the business Alan’s way, and Alan continues to be Devon’s most significant mentor. It’s a relationship with a ton of value generously flowing in both directions.

Devon’s story is a brilliant example of how to cement a mentoring relationship. The moment he received a piece of mentorship — in the form of advice and an email template — he immediately found a way to create a return on that investment. He did this by:

  • Taking the time to write Alan letting him know how his advice made a difference
  • Sharing a critical piece of information that turned out to be enormously valuable
  • Continuing to send Alan new business after the fact

And he did all of that based on a single exchange and a single meeting.

The best way to cement a mentoring relationship is to create a return on investment as quickly as possible — and to continue creating those returns over time.

Those returns don’t have to be huge — they don’t even have to be monetary — they just have to be something meaningful. A lot of new mentees take their mentors’ advice and wait for it to create returns. The best mentees find a way to pay back that investment, in the form of gratitude, follow-through, information, or opportunity. They have a value-creating mindset. They look for ways to justify the mentorship they’re receiving.

This principle is the bridge between finding a mentor and cementing that relationship. It’s how you transition from asking for advice here and there to receiving ongoing wisdom.

Make mentorship your own.

When you enter a formal mentoring relationship, you automatically place yourself in the mentee role. This role is powerful, fruitful, and often the most appropriate when you’re in the early stages of your career goals.

But this traditional role can also become constrictive. Because when you subscribe to the “mentee” position — which is really a set of mindsets and values — you often inherit your mentor’s experience without questioning it, adapting it, and making it your own. You subordinate yourself to your mentor’s experience, and you miss the opportunities to share value in both directions, as partners if not equals.

Which is exactly what you need to do to make the most of your mentorship.

When you enter a mentoring relationship, it’s up to you to consciously determine your role and dynamic.

I get a lot of email from people who are locked into certain relationships with their mentors. They feel beholden to their advice, unable to chart their own path, or frustrated by the rigid definition of the relationship. What began as a fruitful apprenticeship often calcifies into a one-way relationship. These are patterns established early on, based on the needs, power, and status of each party, and they need to be rewritten for the mentoring relationship to succeed.

The best mentees don’t relate to their mentors in a rigid way, and the best mentors don’t impose a fixed role on their mentees.

When both parties are willing to view the other as a full person — partly a mentor/mentee, but also a friend, a colleague, and someone with goals outside of the mentoring aspect — the mentorship relationship really begins to flourish. Because then you can do everything we’ve been talking about in this piece on a much bigger scale (like setting up your mentor on a date or talking a mentee through a family conflict) and enjoy a relationship that is fulfilling in multiple ways.

Mentoring works best when it doesn’t confine you to the “student” role, but allows you to be a partner in a meaningful relationship.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you know as much as your mentor, or that you’re “above” learning from them, or that you can’t be an apprentice in certain moments.

It just means that the mentoring is one aspect of a larger relationship — a relationship that doesn’t prevent you from questioning what you’re learning or changing it in a way that best serves you. That’s the ideal kind of mentoring: when someone else’s experience informs your own, rather than dictating it.

And the best mentors understand that. “The delicate balance of mentoring someone,” said Steven Spielberg, who’s guided some of the greatest filmmakers of the next generation, “is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

Which brings us to the final principle.

Mentor others.

Most people, especially early in their careers, focus on what they can learn from other people. Guiding others, if it occurs to them at all, is something they imagine far down the line. Which makes perfect sense. After all, is a student really in a position to teach?

It’s true that we have to have something to offer in order to be a mentor. But it’s also true that we discount how much we have to offer as we’re learning it.

When we mentor other people as we ourselves are mentored, we create a powerful feedback loop that multiplies the benefits of mentorship and deepens relationships across our lives.

Kayla, a rising staffer in the mayor’s office of her hometown, recently wrote to tell me about the power of mentoring early in her career.

After rising rapidly in local government, she found herself learning from some of the best minds in public service. She also found herself in possession of knowledge she never thought she’d have.

So she began sharing that knowledge. She visited her old high school, and gave a talk about the challenges and virtues of public service. She responded to emails from graduate students interested in local government, and offered them advice on the best way to pursue a career in public service. She made an effort to connect with her colleagues — both at her level and underneath her — and help them think about their goals and skills in new ways. As she learned from her own mentors, she passed that wisdom — and all the knowledge she acquired on her own — to her new mentees.

At first, Kayla felt a little uneasy in this new role. She’s humble, hardworking, and self-aware. She wasn’t sure if she was really in a position to teach or advise. But she didn’t have to be anything more than what she was — someone in the middle of her journey who had valuable assets to share with the people around her.

Over time, Kayla discovered that she multiplied the value of her mentorship by pursuing it on both ends: by seeking out mentorship from senior colleagues, and sharing her own mentorship with junior colleagues. These relationships created a feedback loop of experience and wisdom that has literally created hundreds of opportunities for everyone in her network.

A New Kind of Mentorship

We need a new model of mentorship for our generation.

We need to think about mentorship not as a rigid, one-way, arms-length relationship between a traditional mentor and a textbook mentee, but as a flexible, dynamic relationship between people who create all kinds of value for each other.

We need to be willing to invest in those relationships out of pure generosity, and then to explore the possibility of learning within those partnerships.

We need to stop settling for the constrictive patterns of traditional mentorship, and start opening those relationships up to accommodate new ideas, create unexpected opportunities, and allow the benefits of mentorship to be spread across our networks.

We need to give and receive value back and forth, and with all different types of people, at all different stages of our careers.

We need to be students and teachers, recipients and creators.

We need to find the mentor within every person we meet, and become that person for other people, too.

Because at the end of the day, mentorship isn’t a rigid definition or a one-way street. It’s a layer, a lens, an investment in the world — one that we can discover and create wherever we go.

[Featured photo by Kowon vn]


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