A Guest post by Josh Hanagarne – World’s Strongest Librarian
In my Problogger post about how to land big interviews when your blog is small, I mentioned that I had a mentor. A lot of commenters asked me about that process and if I could write more about it. Send your thanks to Darren if you enjoy the post.
How to find a mentor is the easy part. First we need to talk about why.
Ask yourself this question:
Do I need a mentor?
The answer is yes—ta da!
Sorry, wrong question. If you didn’t think you needed a mentor, you wouldn’t be reading Problogger. No offense to Darren, but Problogger is a how-to, nuts and bolts blog—written by a mentor and businessman.
If you’re here for pleasure reading or entertainment, you’re really not here to be mentored and could probably use some other outlets.
Here are some useful questions behind the question:
- Do I already know everything?
- Am I teachable?
- What teaching methods do I respond to best?
- What are my goals?
- Can a mentor realistically help me reach these goals?
- How quickly do I want (or need) to reach my goals?
- Am I just lonely? (This happens more than you might think)
- Am I looking for a coach, or am I just hoping that this will be less work for me?
Take some time to answer these questions. Don’t waste anyone’s time by approaching him or her before you’ve done some thinking.
Two types of mentors: which would you prefer?
There’s what I think of as the Kill Bill style mentor: the master martial artist who strokes his beard and laughs while beating you into submission. A drill sergeant who teaches through “tough love” and cruel tutelage and says things like, “Before me, your strength is that of the earthworm compared to the eagle, yes?”
There’s nothing wrong with this approach: but be honest—is that what you will respond to? Are you a person who wants to learn with a foot on your neck and a militant “Or else” teaching style?
How often does Darren Rowse step on your neck or make you scream in pain? It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m safe in the United States. Darren encourages, coaches, and gently pulls us along, but you may choose to fail if you wish.
He answers questions, presents information, and how we use it is on us. The vast majority of Darren’s writing is backed up by empirical evidence, case studies, et cetera…in other words, it makes sense to do what he says, but he doesn’t have the time or the kung fu grip to force us. (I think).
Know your own skills
Here are some things I could mentor you on
- Exercising with kettlebells
- Getting 150 RSS subscribers in 3 weeks
- Writing a novel and getting rejected by publishers until the end of days
- Writing guest posts for Problogger
- Shopping for pants when you’re 6’8”: hint, move somewhere warm and buy more shorts
- Fingerstyle guitar
- Coping with an extreme case of Tourette’s Syndrome
Here’s the point: now that you know my skills, you can ask yourself the right question—it’s not “Do I need a mentor?” The answer is yes.
Rather, ask yourself: do I need this person as a mentor? Are my goals more achievable with this person than on my own?
Some qualities to look for in your mentor:
- Humility: they admit mistakes
- Imperfection: they’ve made mistakes so you don’t have to
- Knowledge: they must know things that you want to know and may not be able to learn on your own
- Patience: they have to be willing to answer questions. Lots of them. If someone enters into a formal mentoring relationship with you, don’t hang around for too long if it turns out they don’t have the time or temperament to spend time teaching you.
Some qualities you must have as the mentored:
- Humility: you don’t know everything. Ask questions, but don’t second guess until you must.
- Direction: don’t ask someone to help you reach a destination that you can’t describe. No, “I’ll recognize success when I see it, just help me get there.” Have a plan. If it’s the wrong plan for what you want, a good mentor will tell you.
- Work ethic: don’t ask for help, receive direction, and discard the advice. Be patient and try what they say.
- Realism: mentors aren’t miracle workers. Don’t expect perfection. Mentors are usually people who have gone through enough failures to recognize a losing hand quickly enough to fold.
But why would a mentor agree to help me?
I currently have two official mentors. One (no name—he’d be embarrassed to know I was calling him an official “mentor”) is my blogging compadre who helps me build traffic, polish my content, and market myself.
The other is a professional strongman, “Unbreakable” Adam T. Glass. He’s helping me get stronger. That’s it, because those are my goals right now: blogging and strength.
But when I asked them what they get out of our relationship, both said honestly, “Part of it is because it’s fun to help others. And part of it is hoping that when you get famous that our names will always be linked.” In other words, we may each be more successful later than either of us may be alone.
That’s the beauty of the Internet. Reciprocity is king. It’s easy to do favors. It’s simple to give someone a boost. Show someone who’s already successful what you can do for them. Chances are, they won’t say, “Oh, I’m already successful enough. Pass.”
And if they pass, so what? Life goes on. Find someone else.
How to find a mentor
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: how to find a mentor:
Find someone who has done what you want to do and ask them if they will mentor you. That’s all.
As Darth Vader said to young Luke Skywalker when he threw open the paternity test curtain, “Search your feelings…you know it to be true.”
It is that simple: ask. Dumb luck may play a part, but mostly it’s just asking being willing to ask. Same thing with landing interviews. Same thing with asking for that date.
Same thing about being happy—fulfillment of dreams comes from action. Nobody owes us a favor and nobody is going to show up in tears begging to help us with our goals.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t willing. It just means they don’t know what we want.
But where do you find people like that? If you’ve read any of Darren’s writing, you know where: Problogger, Technorati, trade shows, magazines, social networking groups, Twitter…good grief, there are even more ways than I thought there were.
Make a list of choices and go find someone. Tell them how you can help each other. Do it today. The sun will set either way. You can wake up tomorrow with a mentor lined up, or regretting that another day went by without action.
It won’t make any difference to the person who hasn’t heard of you yet.
Josh Hanagarne writes World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog to help you get stronger, get smarter, and live better…every day. For bonus articles, videos, and original music, please subscribe to the Stronger, Smarter, Better Newsletter. If you know someone with Tourette’s Syndrome, please let them know about the blog. They need to know that someone out there “gets it.”