I got pitched again. “Will... you be my mentor?” This is sweet, and flattering, and problematic for a bunch of reasons. For one, I have four current protégés, four slices and only one pie. I’ve also lost two in the past year or two. Mentoring is something I take very seriously, and that’s why I feel it incumbent upon me to share how easy it is to mess up.
For starters, maybe have more than two conversations with me before asking me to commit to a long-term relationship with you?
You’re right to pick me. I started doing this years ago, and it’s a formal couples project for my husband and me. Our young ones (now grown) have gotten dream jobs and internships, won grants, traveled the world, relocated, gotten fit, won promotions, and we’ve even married a few of them off. Personally I’m proudest of the happy marriages, because those are the hardest to do properly. We’re proud of all of them, though, because the important thing isn’t the dream, it’s having the dream.
Now that I’m working more with adults than with young people, the dreams tend to be different, but they’re still dreams and thus they operate within a standard framework. Win a competition, become a professional public speaker, get a promotion, get a raise and a bonus, pay off a bunch of debt, those are the easy ones. Weight loss and chronic pain management are intermediate and ‘stop hoarding’ is advanced.
See that it’s not the nature of the project under discussion. It’s how you approach it. Choosing a mentor is the tiniest piece, just a faster way to get to where you want to be.
What I’m looking for is a kind-hearted and honest person who is willing to get to work, eager to listen, and suitable to introduce to other people. I have one strict rule, and that is that anyone in my circle has to get along with everyone else in my circle. Cause problems with my friends, colleagues, or guests, and you are automatically disqualified.
I dropped a prospect for sending angry emails in ALL CAPS. That might seem extreme, but I later witnessed her having an altercation in a business setting. She doesn’t know she got dropped, and she may never figure out why things are so comparatively difficult for her.
Using the word ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ also immediately moves someone to my probation list. It’s not quite an auto-fail, but I do see it as a major red flag.
Swearing is fine; in fact it’s encouraged, as long as we’re in a casual setting.
Naysaying is probably the most important thing that one of my protégés needs to understand. Most people do it reflexively and they’ll never stop. My people need to be receptive to working on this habit, because the entire point of working with me is to learn possibility thinking.
“That’ll never work!” “Prove it.”
I have a prospect who is burning through chances right now. She needs a job, and she happens to have a lot of experience in a field with which I am well acquainted. I set up a lunch with her and she canceled while we were already waiting for her at the table. I invited her to a meeting with the director of a company that would probably hire her on the spot. She didn’t come.
From my perspective and that of my friends with hiring authority, new acquaintances are assets. If I can offer them a qualified candidate, I’ve done them a solid and they’ll remember it. I’m not asking them for a favor, I’m giving them a gift. The door is wide open and there’s a little gift bag on the other side with your name on it. Smile and walk through the door. You’re welcome.
That’s why it’s so frustrating and puzzling when people inevitably stand around outside the door, like a cat that can’t make up its mind. Do I really want to go in there? Am I sure? Maybe I’d rather be a giraffe farmer.
This person who keeps blowing her shots always has some reason. One time it was an audition, and she actually got the job, but it was a one-day gig. The rest of the time it turns out to be childcare. I’m sympathetic, but what are you going to do for childcare after you get the job? What did you do while you were working at your last job? This is not a problem I can solve for you, but it is a problem that you have to figure out if you’re going to make your life easier. Find a sitter for two hours, go to the interview, get the job, collect paychecks, problem solved.
If you have a problem that can be solved with money, go after that money!
“I can’t make it.” Okay, then suggest to me another time or another format that would work for you. Do you want to try a video conference? Type an interview over Skype? Send over your portfolio or your resume? What, nothing?
If you’re going to stop at the first obstacle, you’re going to be standing in a tennis court surrounded by little green balls that you never lobbed back.
I made something absolutely crazy happen a few months back. I was riding in a Lyft with a chatty driver, and because I love storytelling, I got him going. It turned out that his sister ran a big charity event, a bulldog race. I immediately texted my friend who has Frenchies to tell her about it, and she said she wanted to go but she thought the deadline passed. I got the driver to give me his sister’s personal phone number! (Of course I told him why I wanted it).
Did my friend text or call to ask to get her dog into the race? NO SHE DID NOT.
They could have made friends. My friend could have networked herself into the charity. Think of all the dog friends her dog could have made!
She might also have won $15,000, but who’s counting.
Passing along opportunities is like a game of Hot Potato. You bounce it back and forth and get it off your hands as soon as possible. This comes from a deep recognition of what an opportunity looks like, even if it’s one that you yourself would never want.
Naturally I’ll continue to pass along opportunities to my bulldog-loving friend, if they come my way. I won’t extend myself quite as far to make them happen, though.
The truth is that almost every time, a person presented with an opportunity will pass. That’s because we like the feeling of having lots of options, but we’re violently allergic to actually deciding and choosing them. That would require change, and change is what we can’t stand. We hate uncertainty, and that unwillingness to be in the Place of Uncertainty is the exact thing that keeps us from our supposed dreams.
That’s the main reason that I lose protégés and drop prospects. They change their minds and decide that they didn’t really want what they originally said they wanted. You mean I got you an interview with a paleontologist with a PhD, and you didn’t make the connection because only just this moment you lost interest in the field??
This is why there are so many gates in the business world. We start feeling burned after extending so many opportunities to people who lost interest or changed their minds. There has to be a way to filter out the tire-kickers and the looky-loos. Show us you’re serious.
Okay, so here’s how to annoy your mentor.
Flake out, fail to show up, fail to follow through.
Ignore suggestions, even easy ones such as checking out a website, reading an article, or applying for a gig.
Keep asking the same question.
Give lengthy explanations as to why you can’t do something.
Try to get the highest-level possible mentor in the room when you aren’t ready, and even the most junior person could easily answer 90% of your questions.
Make major decisions that change your circumstances without mentioning it. You don’t report to me or answer to me, but wouldn’t you want to know if I could save you some hassle or help you avoid a costly mistake?
Allow persistent problems to hold you back, such as bad wi-fi or lack of transportation. Unless you want that to be your condition for the rest of your life, figure it out. If you can’t figure it out, ask everyone you know for advice and follow that advice.
Balk at trivial amounts of money. I used to clean my friends’ bathrooms when I needed $20 or $50 or $100 for something. If you don’t have $65 for a conference, find seven people who will pay you $10 for something, or four people who will pay you $20. Or ask me and I’ll shake down some odd jobs for you.
Ask for my free time on evenings or weekends (1) and then flake out or cancel (2).
I don’t care if you doubt me or disagree with me. I don’t care if you work with additional mentors - the more the merrier! Although do consider introducing us. What I do care about is whether you understand what you’re asking when you ask me to be your mentor, and that you commit to your dream and to living up to your own standards for yourself.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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