Many people associate mentoring or counseling with weakness, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes more courage to admit your faults and ask for advice instead of pretending like you have everything under control. In addition, having a mentor allows you to have someone to hold you accountable for the goals you set for yourself, check in on you, and provide support when you feel discouraged.
A mentor can help you reach your greatest potential faster than you ever could on your own because they can offer new perspectives and insights into your situation. Instead of making decisions solely based on your own outlook, you can gain a more well-rounded view of problems and consider new ways to approach a solution. Plus, difficult issues always feel less burdensome when you can talk to a trustworthy advisor about them. If you’re still not convinced that finding a mentor is the right choice for you, it may be a good idea to take a quick look at the effects mentors have had throughout the centuries.
The Early Beginnings of Mentoring
One of the most famous examples of mentorship occurred in ancient Greece among three philosophers: Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. These three men created a legacy that has survived for several centuries, and each individual made significant contributions to philosophy and ethical theories. For example, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave remains one of the most prominent examples of a person searching for knowledge, and it’s still reviewed by thousands of scholars to this very day. Aristotle is well known for his ethical theories, including virtue theory, and he went on to mentor Alexander the Great. Socrates is the creator of the so-called Socratic method, which is a guideline that can assist people with solving complex moral dilemmas.
This trio should be held up as an example of what can happen when people challenge one another, learn from each other, and share knowledge. These men are still known today because they didn’t attempt to solve ethical problems or have philosophical debates on their own; instead, they were mentors to one another and constantly encouraged each other to further develop their ideas and theories.
Mentoring Through the Ages
- George Mason. You’ve heard of Thomas Jefferson, right? Well, Jefferson’s accomplishments may not have been achieved without the help of his mentor, George Mason. In the 1770’s, Mason assisted Jefferson with drafting the Declaration of Independence, and he also wrote the first version of the Bill of Rights.
- Joseph Haydn. Haydn was an outstanding composer and musician himself, but he also acted as a tutor and friend to Beethoven and Mozart during the 1780’s and 1790’s. The two younger mentees considered Haydn a dear friend and fondly referred to him as their teacher throughout their lives.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau is often recognized for his famous novel, Walden, and his perspectives on nature and its relationship to man. However, Thoreau’s writings may not have come to light without his dear mentor and fellow writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The two men helped each other in both their professional and personal lives for several years until Thoreau passed away in 1862.
- Henri Becquerel. Becquerel acted as a mentor to Marie Curie, who remains one of the best physicists in history. Curie was initially inspired by Becquerel’s work, and this motivated her to become dedicated in her studies. In 1903, Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, and she even went on to receive a second Nobel Prize in chemistry later in life.
Notable Mentors of the Past Century
- Father Michael van der Peet. This man met a woman named Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu one day in Rome, and the two corresponded with each other for several years, confiding in one another and asking for advice. This woman ended up living an incredibly inspiring life and, partly due to the help from her mentor, she dedicated herself to helping people around the world. Bojaxhiu operated multiple charities for orphans and those diagnosed with AIDS, and she remains one of the most revered individuals to this day. If you don’t know who Bojaxhiu is, you may recognize her by another name: Mother Teresa.
- Ray Charles. Charles was a multi-talented musician, singer, composer, and songwriter who inspired millions with his soulful voice and natural talent for music. Charles also acted as a personal mentor to music producer Quincy Jones, who has been awarded a total of 26 Grammys.
- Anne Sullivan. Sullivan, known as a “miracle worker,” was a close friend and mentor to Helen Keller. Sullivan experienced blindness during her younger years, so she felt compassionate towards Keller and was determined to help her realize her own abilities. Keller went on to become a writer, an activist, and an inspiring lecturer thanks to the encouragement Sullivan gave her.
- Dr. Benjamin Mays. Dr. Mays was a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the two connected over their similar views on human rights, social justice, and religious perspectives. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commonly referred to Mays as his “spiritual and emotional father,” since his mentorship inspired King’s activism. King then went on to become a mentor to Jesse Jackson and John Lewis.
- Maya Angelou. This incredible poet and author actually mentored Oprah Winfrey, giving her advice and inspiration during the most difficult times of her life. Winfrey still talks about how much she appreciated Angelou’s encouragement, and some people speculate that Oprah would not have been able to achieve her enormous success without the guidance of Angelou.
- Woody Guthrie. Guthrie composed hundreds of songs as a highly influential singer-songwriter, and his music was especially inspirational to musician Bob Dylan. When Dylan was in high school, he would listen to Guthrie’s music to learn how to improve his own songs. Once Dylan moved to New York, the two musicians became close friends and Dylan would often show songs to Guthrie for his approval. Dylan even wrote a song about his mentor in 1962: “Song to Woody.”
- Christian Dior. Dior, a world-famous fashion designer, mentored another exceptional individual who has made an impact on fashion: Yves St. Laurent. When asked about his mentorship with Dior, St. Laurent responded by saying that, “Dior fascinated me. I couldn’t speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent at his side.”
- Steve Jobs. The CEO of Apple began mentoring Mark Zuckerberg when Facebook had just launched. The two would often talk about the best business strategies for the website and how to optimize it. Today, Zuckerberg is a billionaire and Facebook remains one of the most highly used social media platforms. When Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, Zuckerberg posted the following message on his Facebook page to his mentor: “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.”
- Alan Rickman. Rickman, remembered fondly by fans for his role of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, was a mentor towards Matthew Lewis, who famously played Neville in these films. After the Harry Potter series came to a close, Lewis said that Rickman “inspired my career more than he ever knew”.
- Dr. Arthur Walker. This graduate school professor at Stanford University once encouraged one of his students to apply to NASA to achieve her lifelong ambition of becoming an astronaut. Despite her initial doubts about her abilities, the student was accepted in the program in 1973. This student, Sally Ride, went on to become the first American woman to go to space in 1983. When Ride was later asked about her mentor, she replied, “He instilled confidence, and made me believe that I could accomplish what I set out to accomplish.”
Benefits of Finding a Mentor
Some entrepreneurs may think that they can build their business and achieve success all on their own, but most business professionals have stated that they reached their goals by trusting others and asking for advice. If the rich history of mentoring wasn’t enough to convince you to seek out a mentor, consider these following advantages as well:
- More networking opportunities. A mentor will be able to introduce you to their own business partners that may have much more market experience and insight than you. Having this kind of partnership can easily boost your company’s visibility and help you build a great brand reputation.
- Improved knowledge and skills. A mentor can teach you valuable skills that may advance your career and help you feel more confident when you go about your daily duties. Your communication skills will also improve as your mentor challenges you to speak up and become a better leader.
- Receive insightful advice. At several points throughout your professional career, you will likely be faced with several dilemmas that you might not know how to solve. A mentor who has years of experience in your field and has a deep understanding of the market can help you choose the best options by providing advice based on their own experiences. Instead of learning from your own mistakes, a mentor can help you avoid making serious errors in the first place.
- Provides accountability. Setting goals on your own can be hard, and you may feel tempted on some days to ignore your to-do list or skimp on your work. With a mentor, you will always have that extra boost of motivation to continue striving towards your best, especially on days when you might not feel like doing anything.
How to Find a Great Mentor
After recognizing the long history of mentorships and the profound impact mentors have made on the world, you’re probably wondering how you can go about finding a mentor. First things first: don’t ask a stranger to be your mentor. If you idolize a certain celebrity or a nationally recognized CEO, sending them an email asking them for advice probably isn’t your best option. Instead, seek out people you already know, or try the following strategies:
- Search for professionals in your field. Some entrepreneurs may refer to a teacher or pastor as a mentor, and while this can certainly be helpful, it will be even more beneficial to find someone who has a history of success in your field of interest. These leaders can offer you specific industry advice that other people would simply be unaware of.
- Look online. Nowadays, there truly is a website for everything. There are several sites designed to help entrepreneurs connect with industry professionals, such as Find A Mentor. You might find a mentor you can meet in person, or you could choose to keep your relationship totally online. You could also browse social media and follow local business people within your community that you admire or look up to.
- Attend networking events. Even if you may not find the perfect mentor for you at your first event, you can broaden your network by meeting other professionals and entrepreneurs who you can perhaps partner with.
- Volunteer. You will almost always meet individuals with a passion for helping others when you volunteer within your community. If you volunteer at a certain place regularly, such as at a nursing home or at a food bank, you can become more involved with your community, give back, and potentially find a mentor all at once!
Remember that a great mentor will continually challenge you, and a mentorship takes a lot of hard work and self-reflection. But if you truly want to achieve success and gain valuable feedback, finding a mentor might just be the best decision you can make to improve both your personal life and your business for years to come.