the best way to find a mentor

A question I’m frequently asked is, “how do you find a mentor?”

It’s a pretty innocuous question, and it’s almost always asked with the best of intentions. But I hate it.

I don’t look for mentors. To ask how I find a mentor is to assume some sort of search, which I’ve never really done.

Don’t get me wrong, I think mentorship is extremely important and I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have been mentored by a ton of amazing individuals. However, I’m convinced that this is due to my approach (which I stumbled upon mostly by instinct and luck).

A closer look at a mentor/mentee relationship reveals what it really is: a friendship.

Look at mentors through that lens. If you approach finding a mentor the same way you’d approach making a friend, you are going to be much more successful. Conversely, if you approach making friends the same way most people approach “finding a mentor,” you are going to be very lonely.

Last night I listened to the Tim Ferriss podcast with Noah Kagan. Noah Kagan was an early employee at Facebook and Mint, the founder of AppSumo, and clearly very accomplished and legitimate. I generally align with Tim Ferriss on his opinions around mentorship (he doesn’t want to help you, he doesn’t have time to help you, and you’re approaching him the wrong way). So I was excited when Tim asked Noah how he’d recommend approaching someone to be a mentor, because I expected some advice that would play to my confirmation bias.

Noah gave the advice of (paraphrasing), “Don’t email someone and ask them to be your mentor, email them and ask them if you can meet with them on a regular basis.”

The only part of that advice that I agree with is “Don’t email someone and ask them to be your mentor.”

Think about that advice through our patent-pending mentor-to-friend lens. If someone that you had never met (or, at best, have met but do not really know) sent you a cold email and asked you to commit to meeting with them on a regular basis, would you be interested in doing that? Even worse, imagine if that same individual asked you out of the blue, “Will you be my friend?”

Let’s just roll with the dictionary definition of a mentor as “an experienced and trusted advisor.” There are two things you need to know about these mentors:

  1. They don’t have an excess of free time
  2. They won’t execute your idea for you

What I’m saying is, just like everyone else, mentors are busy. And their time is more valuable than yours (at least to the market). They have no interest in an unpaid, part-to-full-time job helping you with your idea.

Even if your mentor was remotely interested and had the perfect background to help your business/idea/pursuit/endeavor/etc…mentors are not a magic bullet. Your success will largely be on your own shoulders to execute.

Now, knowing that even with a world class mentor you will be doing the majority of work yourself, wouldn’t you also prefer this mentor to be a friend as opposed some sort of Great and Powerful Oz that you rarely see?

So the question becomes: how do you make a friend? Good news: you’ve been doing that your whole life!

Friendships are about shared value. The two-way street. That’s not to say you are constantly trading favor for favor, bartering over each other’s services, etc. It’s to say you enjoy each other’s company and time equally.

In looking back to my previous example, if someone sent you an email asking, “Will you be my friend?” there is no evidence for you (the recipient) to show that you will equally enjoy this arrangement.

Earlier this week, I boiled down what I thought has helped me to make and maintain friendships:

If you want to find an exceptional mentor, start by changing your goal to making an exceptional friend.

Further reading:

6 keys for making and keeping friends (expansion on the above list)

One question to form relationships faster


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