We can’t do it alone, whatever “it” is.
Young people emerging into the adult world need mentors who can coach them, guide them, and share valuable experience with them.
But what should your student look for in a mentor? How do they find one?
Let’s explore these questions.
What is Mentorship?
Mentorship includes a variety of activities. Mentors may coach, advise, encourage, or train people. They may do all these things! Ultimately, Dr. Jeff Myers, in his book Cultivate, describes mentorship as “the cultivation of young adults. . .so that they will grow, flourish, and be fruitful.” This is a good definition of mentorship: careful cultivation that leads to growth. And it doesn’t just apply to young adults. Older adults can be mentored too!
What Should I Look For in a Mentor?
Now we turn to the question of how to find someone to do that cultivating in your own life or the life of your student!
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Students should seek out a mentor intentionally. The individual requirements will be up to each individual student, of course, but here are just a few principles to consider when seeking a mentor:
- It is often helpful to have more than one mentor. Different people can help us grow in different areas. They have various strengths that they can share. For example, a young man may find a great mentor in a carpenter who can help him grow in practical work skills but may not be equipped to cultivate his faith or relational life. And vice versa. Sometimes one mentor can help a student grow in multiple areas of their life but this “one-stop-shop” kind of mentoring is usually rare. More often, it’s good to have a few mentors focusing on different areas of life like faith, work, practical skills, relationships, and more.
- Don’t expect perfection, but look for excellence. Nobody’s perfect. And if you expect a mentor to be perfect, your expectations are incredibly unrealistic. But that doesn’t mean you should ask just anyone to mentor you. You should pay close attention to how a potential mentor lives and ask yourself if you want your life to look like that. While mentoring doesn’t lead to a “mini-me”, it’s a process of guidance and cultivation. The perspectives shared by a mentor do shape the mentee. It’s good to be aware of the influence a mentor has on your life and carefully choose mentors who will influence you for good.
- Mentorship doesn’t always look the same. Some mentoring relationships last for years. Others last for a few months. Some involve regular meetings and conversations. Others are more hands-off and might require an every-now-and-then approach when specific questions are addressed. Relationships change over time and mentoring relationships are no different.
How Do I Ask Someone to Mentor Me?
So maybe you’ve thought about finding a mentor, you’ve observed an older adult who you respect and want to learn from, and you’re ready to ask them to mentor you. But how do you do that? Is it as simple as walking up to them and saying “Will you mentor me?”
Well, yes, it can be that simple! Especially if you have a good relationship with that individual already, it may just be a matter of asking. Other times it may require more explanation. If you’re only acquainted with a potential mentor or perhaps have observed their life from afar, introduce yourself, communicate your respect for them, and share how you hope they can help you.
For example: “My name is ___. I’m really interested in a career in ___ and I realize you’ve been doing work in that field for a number of years. I admire the way you ___ from what I’ve seen and I think you have some valuable experience in ___. I’m wondering if you would be willing to share some of your experience and help coach me through my own journey.”
This is where things can go a number of ways. They may say “Sure, let’s meet for coffee!” Or they could say, “Well, you’re interested in my career, why don’t you shadow me for a day at the job?” They may say “I’m sorry, I don’t have time in my schedule to meet.”
After making your initial request, it’s important to listen carefully to their response and respect their suggestions. You’re asking for their time so be willing to “meet them halfway” and respect their time and wishes even if it inconveniences you.
One of the most rewarding trade-offs you can offer in exchange for your mentor’s time is your responsibility. If they are investing time in your life, you should be willing to commit to them that you will take your relationship seriously. If you meet once a month, come prepared with questions for a productive conversation. Commit to them that you will use their mentoring in your life so they can see the fruit of their investment.
A Partner For Growth
There’s so much more that could be said about mentorship. In fact, entire books have been written about it. If you’re interested in learning more about finding and being a mentor, I recommend Cultivate: Forming the Emerging Generation Through Life-on-Life Mentoring by Dr. Jeff Myers.
Whether it’s a work project, a relationship, or faith, we can’t walk through life without guidance. Finding mentors who can help cultivate growth in your life is a great investment regardless of your stage in life.
The Signature Leadership Courses, taught by Dr. Jeff Myers, teach students how to lead: whether they’re leading a team of dozens of people or cultivating one individual. The Signature Leadership Courses are included in the Ascend program.
Jace Bower is the Marketing Coordinator for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.