Friday, January 19, 2007

Diversify your mentor portfolio

Austin and the rest of Central Texas were recently rocked by a winter ice storm, and in a region without salt trucks and precious salt, city officials urged everyone to stay home and grow stubble. Needless to say, I had large chunks of time to catch up on books and mull over some recent conversations that took place in Ann Arbor this past December.

Following all of those conversations, I paired them with a few thoughts to sharpen my understanding of mentors. For starters, take what you can get. All of us would benefit greatly from daily and long-term interactions with experienced and admired mentors, but it’s more realistic to connect with a mentor semi-regularly or even “once in a blue moon.” The quality of each interaction can certainly make up for quantity.

In addition, it’s important to realize that mentors exist in many parts of our lives. We should actively seek them out while building careers, exploring relationships, enjoying marriage, raising children, navigating investments, maintaining great health, and understanding our spirituality. Those categories make me think of 15 people who are instrumental in guiding and challenging me.

Naturally, family members tend to be very insightful mentors and tremendous confidence builders. This brings me to my last point. Our collection of mentors must include a variety of family, social, and professional contacts. In my experience, family members will do whatever they can to reduce or block struggles. They protect us, and in many instances, they shy away from saying the things we need to hear. Friends and other mentors counterbalance those experiences by calling us out whenever necessary.

For example, I sat in the lower level of Starbucks off of State Street and Liberty on December 21. A friend and mentor in my life casually sat across from me, and we exchanged updates and new stories for about 20 minutes. Shortly after, a warm conversation was buried beneath an honest and fiery observation. He revealed, “I have this 5% doubt in you.” I’ll explain the significance of that sentence in my next post. In the meantime, Go Blue from Texas!