Unconventional Mentors is a project to help women find inspiration and support in their careers.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of having a mentor and how they could help me to achieve my goals. They have seemed like the key that could unlock so much success if I could only find the right person to help me. I’ve had a few mentors over the years and whilst I have definitely learnt things from them, the experience never lived up to my expectations. It was only when I started to coach and mentor other people that I began to understand why having a mentor wasn’t working for me. By seeing the impact I’ve had on other people as a coach and mentor, I’ve realised how powerful a great relationship can be, but also how limiting it can be if you get it wrong.
“It’s not about the advice a mentor can give you, but what advice you choose to take.”
When I’ve mentored someone, I’ve found that they often look to me for the answers and expertise, checking with me about what I think about their decision. Whilst I have specific expertise I can share with them and answer questions about my area of work, I can’t tell them what the right decision for them is, only they can do that. When I’ve coached people, I have seen the power that comes from being sure of your own decision. By helping someone to understand their problem, explore it and challenge their thoughts, they can see what the right next steps for them are. This was even more apparent when I suggested to someone that I was mentoring that I coach them instead. They stopped asking me if I thought their decisions were a good idea and started to dream bigger and take ownership of the decisions they needed to make.
I had always used a coaching approach when mentoring someone, but the label of mentor sets up a power imbalance in the relationship, I am the mentor, they are the mentee. I have all the expertise and they are there to learn. It doesn’t matter how many open questions I use or how much I encourage people to make their own decisions, the implication that I know best is there from the start. I believe that you are in control of your career and the choices you make about it. You might need advice and guidance but ultimately you have to decide what is right for you. I want to empower women to seek out that advice and guidance and use it to reinforce their own way of doing things, rather than looking to someone else to tell them what the right thing is to do.
Whilst I believe that we are all capable of figuring out our own challenges, we don’t need someone to tell us what to do, we do all need some inspiration from time to time. By looking at what other people have done, how they have approached problems or challenges, we can be inspired to try things in a different way, or even just feel more secure that our way of doing something is right for us. You can look for ideas to bring into your plan rather than looking to someone else to write the plan for you. It is fantastic to have a mentor, but you need to be clear about what it is you want to learn from them and also that you only take the advice that you think is going to be right for you.
How do you find a good mentor?
I had always thought that a great mentor would be someone I could meet for coffee a few times a year and they would take me under their wing and help me to develop. What I have realised is that the work that comes from having a great mentor is the work I do every day to learn and improve. I also realised that I didn’t need to meet a mentor in person to be able to get support from them. There is so much information about how people have made their decisions and lived their lives, I can get inspiration from books, interviews, social media and all of the other information that is available to us in this connected world we live in. The hard part is choosing the right person.
There is a temptation to look at the people who are doing the thing that you want to do for inspiration, to try to be like them. If you want to be a TV host and media executive, you might look to Oprah, if you want to be a success in the business world you might read Arianna Huffington’s book. But you will never be them and doing the same things they did probably won’t give you the same outcome as you are missing one vital ingredient, they are them and you are you.
What I am interested in is the approach that people take. I don’t want to be an artist, but I want to be as determined and self-defined as Frida Kahlo. I don’t want to be an author, but I want to have the passion towards my work that Virginia Woolf had to her writing.
These are my Unconventional Mentors. The women (and a few men) who I look to for inspiration and motivation to pursue my career and live my life on my own terms. They probably won’t be doing the same job as me, and they may not live in the same country or time as me, but there is so much I can learn from them. I don’t want to be them, or even do what they have done, but I want to learn from how they approached work, life and love and apply those approaches to my own life.
I am going to feature the women who have inspired me and share the advice that I have chosen to take from them. In putting together the project I have also discovered lots of people I didn’t know about too and I will be sharing the advice I have taken from them as well. I’ll be talking about the advice that I take from my Unconventional Mentors and how they motivate and inspire me to dream big and achieve my goals. I will also be interviewing other women about their Unconventional Mentors to find out where they get their inspiration from and what advice they choose to take.
When you look at mentors this way round you retain your power to make your own path in the world. When you feel that you need to defer to “experts” to know if you have made the “right” choice, then you often end up making decisions that aren’t a good fit for you. By seeking out people to look to for advice and guidance for the things you need help and support with right now you can take charge of your own development and make your own way.
I hope that find this new approach to mentors helpful and I can’t wait to hear who your Unconventional Mentors are.