If you’ve ever felt stuck in your life or profession, it could be a sign that it’s time to find a mentor. A mentor is beyond you in career, age, and stage of life. They can give you wisdom and direction. And where they may be limited on time, a coach could take you further.
For years I’ve sought the help of mentors, and it’s helped me keep a steady path toward growth. One of the reasons I wrote, Executive Retreats for Busy Business Leaders (coming June 6th) was to put a different face on Executive & Leadership Development. People grow most, not through only attending classes and gaining certifications, but through relationships. In recent years, I found mentoring with Joe (pictured).
Some time ago, a made a journey to Joe’s house on Oconomowoc Lake in Wisconsin to explore questions about calling. “I feel like I’ve lost my passion,” I said. “I’ve done a lot of things, and am still doing a lot of things, but for some reason, I’m not looking forward to any of it. I’ve gone through some hard stuff and life seems to be rebuilding, but I feel alone and I don’t really care about much of it.”
Joe opened the front of the fireplace, inserted another log, and said, “Sometimes running out of ourselves is the greatest gift we can ever get.” He sat back down and remained quiet.
Okay, I thought.
I waited for more as I watched the snow fall outside. What’s he going to say next? I wondered.
After about thirty seconds of silence. Joe gathered his thoughts and continued. “When we are stripped of our familiar comforts and people who flatter us, it’s for our own well-being. Something’s happening right now in you,” he observed.
Good conversations start with great listening, and on that day, I needed to be heard. In the years following a significant loss, I’d rebuilt my business and moved my family across the country. But something was lacking. Joe helped me understand that I’d been organizing the chess pieces of my life for a long time and it had exhausted me. My next phase of development would be more focused on my internal life. Later on that trip, Joe inspired me to think more about working on myself. “You’re in an important time of character development,” he said. “Be patient.”
Those days were the beginning of me recovering some passion in my life. I’ve learned a lot since then, too, but I couldn’t have seen it without a mentor.
Who do you have in your life that will speak to you with such thoughtfulness?
Why You Need a Guide
Going away with a mentor can help you clarify your passion and your calling. The word passion (in Latin) means “to suffer.” Looking back on it now, what I was really asking at that time was, “What’s worth suffering for?” What I’ve learned since then is that the thing worth suffering for is calling—this idea that my unique story and truths can be manifested in certain works in this world. Yet sometimes, my calling can get buried beneath all the clutter in my mind.
Here are a few famous mentoring relationships you may or may not be aware of.
- Steve Jobs once mentored Mark Zuckerberg on how to stay connected to his original mission.
- Warren Buffet mentored Bill Gates on how to think differently about Microsoft.
- Oprah Winfrey called Maya Angelou one of the greatest influences in her life, and learned from Angelou how to build trust and relationships.
It may be time for a mentor when you just can’t see what’s next or are having trouble focusing. Maybe your calling is unclear, and you need a voice of wisdom to help you see it. “Calling is tricky,” Joe told me once, “because it transcends anything we will ever produce. It’s more about what we carry inside of us, despite what we ever can do.”
There’s a lot in that statement that bears repeating—in particular, that your life’s work is about more than your day job. It’s about the sculpting of your character and a kind of “coming home” to your true nature.
Go Away With a Mentor (or Coach)
The proactive signs might be a desire to grow and mature as you age, or as your career changes. As I’ve done retreats with clients, I’ve seen how some need an internal check-in, a little rest, or help planning their next quarter, or year. And though these practical steps may be better suited to a coaching relationship, a mentor can help in these areas, too. You may be unsure of where to focus next, given the demands on your time. With a good mentor, you can find focus and take that focus further with the help of a coach.
The reactive signs that you may need to find a mentor are a little different. Some leaders have “monkey mind.” You may feel scattered and easily distracted, unable to prioritize what’s truly important. You may feel your heart racing or pulse pounding as you struggle to get clarity. Others feel fatigue or experience other bodily signs that they need a reset. Another indicator that you need a mentor is if you’ve received negative feedback about your job performance. Worse yet would be if you haven’t received any feedback because your team perceives you as unsafe or unresponsive. Currently, I’m working with a group of managers in a manufacturing company. As pre-work for the sessions, I’m having them ask their teammates, “On a scale of 1-10, how approachable am I?”
If that were you, how do you think your people would answer? If you don’t know or are not comfortable with how they’d answer, it may be a sign that you need to go away with a mentor to face what’s going on inside.
Do you want to get better? A book will help, and time alone is good. But time with an older mentor is really where it’s at. Going to their home turf and watching how they live will broaden your horizons, too.
What I Do For Ongoing Development
Who comes to your mind when you think of someone who brings a different outlook in age, industry, maturity, and wisdom? What would it look like for you to reach out and schedule a conversation? How would you like to grow?
I take a few days away each quarter to follow around older men who have wisdom I want to absorb. How could this kind of relationship help you?
I’m thankful for the mentors in my network. They are fun, hospitable, and wise — all things I aspire to. To get a window in on Joe’s life, check out this short film recently made about him and his friends (at the very bottom of this article). Though they are in their sixties, they are all open-water swimmers. I love their friendship and comradery. I’m proud to know that the influence of men like this has rubbed off on me and I too am surrounded with a full life.
The higher a person goes into an organization, oftentimes, the more alone they become. It doesn’t have to be like this. There is a better way.