Finding a Mentor (Jenny Blake case study)

Ryan MacDowell

Learning from someone who has mastered what you want to do is invaluable. If you are looking for a professional guitarist to teach you guitar or a native speaker to teach you a new language, the process is pretty straightforward. But how do you even begin finding a mentor for career success?

Here, the process can be much more ambiguous and daunting. Most people who are highly successful in their careers and personal lives are simply too consumed by it all to actively offer guidance.

Life coaches are a crapshoot as well. I’ve had several throughout university and acquired a license myself in 5 months by the age of 20 (some can be very helpful, but that should give you an idea of how much experience it requires).

In seeking a mentor, what we really want is someone who has genuinely been where we are, has overcome the same struggling points, and knows how to effectively convey what we need to do. Given the above, and the fact that effective coaches are usually around $200/hr, the best bet is to actually reach out to people who are not offering coaching, but rather are actively doing what we want to do.

Below, I’ve outlined the steps to finding your own mentor. Also, since I’ve been following through on the Ellsberg Program, I’m also including here how I’ve done this myself – finding a mentor in the author of Life After College, Jenny Blake.

Step 1 – Set the Stage

Define your field, then define your goals and start pushing forward with them. When you reach a sticking point, find out who the best person to ask would be. And remember, as long as they’re still alive and in good health and potentially accessible, there’s no limits on who that person is.

Example:

At the end of summer a good friend recommended that I look into Jenny Blake, who had landed a gig at Google in Career Development before the age of 25 and was now the author of a great guide for recent graduates called Life After College. A quick look at her blog and experience and I knew this was someone I wanted to talk to. 

Step 2 – Do Your Research

After you find out who that is, zoom in on them. Research and learn everything about them until you’re their number 1 fan – the expert on the expert. Make sure what they are doing now is still relevant to the reasons that you wanted to talk to them in the first place.

Example:

I bought her book and completed the exercises in it, signed up for her newsletter and read through her blog, and found whatever else I could that could give me an insight into what she was all about – her goals and overall vision. Throughout this research process, I kept going back and re-evaluating my goals to make sure this was someone I genuinely believed in.

Step 3 – Give, Give, and Give Some More

This is the most critical and probably the most counter-intuitive step. Before you even think about anything else, you need to find out how YOU can help THEM. What’s more, you need to give unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

It’s so obvious when someone has an ulterior motive for helping you. If you are not genuinely interested in their work, and don’t want to be a part of helping them succeed in it – then you’ll need to find someone else.

When you give to someone without seeking reciprocation, they are 1000% more likely to return the favor in some way. Even if that means introducing you to someone who is better suited to help you.

Example:

Jenny promotes herself through her blog and truly wants to help students succeed after college. I started giving back to her by commenting on her most recent posts, telling her how her material had helped me so far and the actions I’d taken with it. If your curious about my progress, you can find it at ryanmacdowell.com. Right from the first comment, her gratitude and enthusiasm was mindblowing – she even mailed me a bookmark and handwritten letter to reiterate how much she appreciated it. A few more emails and she asked if I could write her a review on Amazon to give my perspective. I treated it with the same seriousness as an internship essay and again received gratitude and more enthusiasm. 

Next, having successful, unprompted case studies is a huge benefit for any author, so I started uploading my responses to her book exercises to serve as a reference for her readers. As a result: She added me on Linked In and Twitter, and actually included me in her newsletter driving a huge amount of new traffic to my site. Without a single prompt, I was now getting emails from her saying to reach out if she can help me in any way. The great thing is that everything was actually genuine and we both benefited greatly from connecting with each other.

Note: Having a mentor is not a one-sided relationship, it works best as a win-win for both parties. 

Step 4 – Work It, Girl

OK, that person who you thought so highly of before – who you never in a lifetime thought would be directly speaking with you – is now enthusiastically offering you free guidance. Make the most of this opportunity by being the best student they could ask for.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone who you mentored succeed from your advice. It’s up to you to go above and beyond with what they are now giving to you.

Example:

I haven’t gotten this far yet, and I’m still working through the exercises and uploading them to the site. But I know that this is the start of a solid relationship with someone who I admire and who has succeeded in many of the things I want to accomplish. I know if I come to a sticking point, I can shoot an email to a published author on the topic and receive a personal response.

The point is that it’s much easier to connect with highly successful people than most people suspect. Really, you just need to separate yourself in how you do it and have the confidence to follow through.


Another great way to find a mentor – and one who has attended McGill – is through the CaPS Mentor Program. I’ve used this myself, and have continued to find amazing mentors through it during my time at McGill. I highly recommend checking it out.

More resources for networking / finding mentors:

How to Network Your Way to World-Class Mentors by Michael Ellsberg

Networking Tips from the White House by Tim Ferriss

Develop Your Networking Skills by CaPS

 


[photo cred: JD Hancock]

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