“It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”
— Uncle Iroh, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Most people that have had a mentor agree that their mentor helped shape them into a better, and more professional individual. I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today without a select few individuals.
During college and the earlier years of your career, you will find yourself with an abundance of mentors over the years. The problem, however, is that it’s easy to fall into a trap of similar mentors. For example, if you’re an aspiring dramatic actor, you wouldn’t necessarily find it a priority to have a comedic actor as a mentor, or a horror actor mentor. The reason is that a) you might not often be in situations where you’re around actors different than your preferred style and b) you might not see the direct benefit.
Mentors come from all over, and it’s important to diversify your network. Not just in the form of race or gender, but also in the forms of career direction, industry or background. Because a person is not in the exact space you hope to be in one day, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the knowledge to share with you. These mentors that you may not appreciate at first, can show you new things you never thought you needed.
This mentor has made it in your field and mastered the craft. They have achieved in ways that you can only dream of and don’t show signs of slowing down, either. This mentor is a great person to look up to and when it comes to navigating your 1, 5, or 10-year plan, they are your best resource. This mentor may come in the form of a dean at your college, a keynote speaker you saw at a conference, or a high-level executive at a dream job. No matter the issue, whenever you’re in a bind and need some advice, this person is typically who you would think to call upon for guidance.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, a co-pilot is someone that’s your age and going through the same things you are. You’re in this together, learning from each other’s mistakes and acting as a motivation. Both of you may come from different backgrounds (rural, city, an only child, economic class, etc…) but right now, you’re both trying to achieve highly in the same field. Those differences bring learning opportunities. A co-pilot may be a classmate, a friend made in extracurriculars or someone you met at a networking event. This person is going to help you just as much as you’re going to help them.
Just because someone is in a different field than you, doesn’t mean you can’t draw wisdom from them. In many cases, you can learn more from them than a same-field mentor because of the different perspectives they can bring. In the fields of public relations, marketing, and advertising, there are subtle differences and occasional challenges these departments face when working with one another. When you have a mentor in that field, you’re able to grasp a different perspective that will allow you to work with others in a more understanding manner. Or going back to the original actor metaphor, those differences can expand your toolbox and grow different skill sets, making you more valuable to an employer or client.
The Reverse Mentor
Let’s take a step back from your mentor and focus more on a mentee. Mentors can teach you a lot, but so can someone you’re acting as a mentor for. Younger generations, even if it’s just a difference of a few years, can expand your knowledge and keep you thinking relevant. Not only that, but everyone has faced hardships in their lives and challenged adversity. Learn from the mistakes and successes of others, regardless of age.
There’s a saying that you are your own worst critic. Well, that’s not always a bad thing. When you look at yourself critically, you evaluate your flaws and learn from your own mistakes before anyone else may notice. When you take an in-depth look at your own work or take a strategic approach to plan your future, you are becoming your own mentor. Evaluate yourself and figure out your strengths, your weaknesses and where you sit when it comes to group settings. These are all important questions to ask when building your career.
No matter if you’re a freshman in college or a seasoned veteran, having a mentor is important and making sure you diversify your network is just as important as having a network at all. Grow your network to reflect different areas of expertise and backgrounds. It’s one of the ways you can become a more rounded-out professional.