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Better Questions Than “Do I Need a Mentor?” and “How do I get one?”

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?

Kill Bill

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?

Problogger 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.”

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Twitter Tips says:

    I always learn from Pro bloggers, and you’re actually one of them! Thanks for sharing Darren :)

  2. veer says:

    Informative and inspiring :)

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Todd Jordan says:

    I’d love a mentor or three. On the flip side, I’m sure there are folks I’d be willing to mentor. That’d be anyone needing some beginning tips on blogging, tweeting or how to think like a programmer. :)

    Mentoring is a lost art. Lots of people visualize mentors as ones that hold your hand and throw out tidbits of knowledge. Rarely do mentors today mentor. They want to give out info an a rather impersonal way. Knowledge is transferred best by someone that has time to be focussed on how you learn and can present or translate knowledge into various forms depending on who they are mentoring.

    Darren and the Problogger family has a lot of mentoring going on, and the variety of materials, and folks that are good at sharing it is unbelievable.

    So, if you’re going to mentor, it’s more important to be good at sharing than to be the world’s greatest whatever before you mentor.

  4. Darren, thanks for featuring another of my posts. Much appreciated. If anyone commenting has any questions I can answer, let me have it and I’ll give it my best shot.

  5. This is a really insightful blog.

    Many of us already have mentors in place, but don’t think of them as such. As a professional writer, it just so happens that a few of my friends are writers. Perhaps that’s what drew me initially to them, but we are all great friends.

    We all help each other through the writing process, coaching each other and reviewing our work together. I have found myself to be both mentor and mentee, and it’s wonderful to have a dual role.

  6. Good post!
    I have a class mate who check my articles once in a while, on spelling and everything. But a mentor would be a good idea!

    What I do know is building some relation with other bloggers in my niche, and making a friendship who help each other with gaining traffic. Doesn’t equal a mentor, but is also great!

  7. Tommy Kirt says:

    I can’t say I have a mentor as such, but I have had several people that I’ve had contact with over the past few years who directly led to the creation of my website.

    They were all brief mentors teaching me something new, providing an opportunity, or explaining things to me at exactly the right times. I can name each of them and where their contributions led me on my site path. Without each of them, my website wouldn’t exist. The last of which was 3 weeks ago and who recommended me to ProBlogger where I’ve learnt even more, and at the right time again..

  8. edavaria says:

    Great advice. Hope that i would have seen it a year ago before having to realize it myself.

    Just as a side note, I’m still following your bibliography guideline that you gave me back in march (http://astore.amazon.com/chrisbrogan. )I’m finishing The Tipping Point that I’m reading as prequel of Made to Stick. You should add into your tips asking for books/artocles/papers recommendations so you can argue him later and check if he really worth your time following him, or if he really is in the same business that you are aiming for.

    Regards

    Eduardo Avaria
    http://www.thesocialpartner.com
    http://www.twitter.com/edavaria

  9. Carolyn says:

    Josh – I like that your goals are so clear and succinct…which means you’ll likely accomplish both of them with great success! Great post.

  10. Thank you for articulating these points so clearly Josh. I am going to bookmark this and make it mandatory reading for all of my students.

    Even when someone recognizes the truth about when you keep on doing the same old things you cannot expect new results, it can become intimidating to step outside of your comfort zone of familiar habits.

    A mentor can be there helping by providing guidance and reassurance based upon experience and knowledge. Often this is all someone who has committed to action needs to find their path to personal success.

  11. @Jay Mandatory reading! That’s a first for me. One for the journal:)

    What you say about stepping outside your comfort zone is very, very true. Just because it shouldn’t be scary doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel real. Meaning, it IS real.

    I probably spend too much time operating like Homer Simpson, who says, “We need someone who acts without thinking!” So far, most of my successes come from ignoring what is typically considered wisdom.

  12. Peter Shine says:

    It seems to be a good idea to include the method for finding and establishing relationship with a mentor as a basic curriculum in educational institutes. Also, I think the opposite way for finding a good mentee can be started as early as teenage.

  13. Tiffany says:

    Josh, thanks for writing this and Darren thanks for publishing it. Yes, it should be mandatory reading. Excellent advice for finding a mentor or being a mentor. I’ve got teenage children and I will be sharing some of this with them.

    “fulfillment of dreams comes from action.” That is an excellent statement. Thanks for encouraging us to take action. And thanks to Darren for giving us specific actions to take that will grow our blogs.

  14. Excellent write up, I found a blogging mentor early on and it made a huge difference, I’ll always be grateful for the help and support he gave. More than that, the friendship is priceless. :)

    -Mig

  15. Thanks MIguel. How did you find your mentor? And amen on the friendship bit. I can’t believe how many doors blogging can open for people.

  16. teratips says:

    Very Informative and inspiring, Thanks for the post!
    http://www.teratips.com

  17. Great post. I have several people whose advice and teachings I follow very closely. Although some of these people I’ve never met, I still read everything that I can from them and use them as unofficial mentors. I have also begun mentoring some people at my site as well. Thanks for this insightful post!

  18. Great post Darren. Mentoring is the key element which many online business programs lack. You want someone who’s been there to show you the ropes every step of the way. Thanks for sharing your insight. Ryan

  19. Foot on neck ftw.

  20. Please teach me how to exercise with kettlebells!

  21. Learn Froex says:

    Mentoring is the key element which many blogs or forums. Mentor can be there to provide guidance and support.

  22. Mentors are good because they tell you the real deal, not just everything except the most important part (which I find a lot of online advise bloggers and info product sellers doing). Good post.

  23. Excellent write up, I found a blogging mentor early on and it made a huge difference, I’ll always be grateful for the help and support he gave. More than that, the friendship is priceless. :)

  24. Nowadays we have lots of so called guru’s who act as mentors (promise to take your hand on a journey of gaining riches online). However, very few fit your description of a good mentor. In fact, most of these mentors are hungry to fill their own pockets.

    I am glad we have an inspiration figure as Darren Rowse (I will not call him my mentor) who is always furnishing us with useful info, so that we can survive the online challenge without a guru.

  25. I have been debating inside my mind about to have or not to have a mentor. You gave some clarity, thanks!

  26. saurabh says:

    I was knowing that I am lacking somewhere..
    And, now i know where..??

    I seriously want a mentor..

    So, anyone would like to be my mentor..??

    Saurabh
    http://jammyspeak.blogspot.com

  27. fas says:

    Everyone needs a mentor. You need to be worthy to be a mentor but having mentors does not mean you dont need a mentor : p

  28. This is a good idea to have one.

    I have no mentor at the moment. :-(

    But I have your book Darren, PROBLOGGER and I love it ;-)

    I can recommend your book to everybody who wants to do blogging.

    Great thanks to you and Chris Garret.

  29. Josh,
    I am such a fan. Another wise and succinct post.

    I have two mentors. One set up through a professional organization. The other is doing exactly what I want to do, and I did not know her well before. Asking her to mentor me was like meeting someone through an online dating service.
    Very shy questions back and forth for a while. She has been very generous with specific info.

    Now I struggle with not knowing where the boundaries of appropriate questions about her busines might be.

    Could you write a post about what is appropriate, and what is not, in a mentoring relationship? Oh, that sounds scary.

    I am a new mentor too. From my mentee, I sense a bit of worry that she is taking up too much of my time. But I freely give it and I really enjoy being able to help. As others have helped me.

    Darren,
    Could you please put Josh on staff? Or at least a regular guest post.

  30. Mikes says:

    Very well put and clearly explained. Mentoring is very essential in this life. We grow through people who have taught us what to do. Without mentors, we’d end up somewhere desolate and unsuccessful. I’m just happy that this is not just applicable to the blogging arena, it can be applied in your job, church (discipleship) or even in your family and personal lives.

    Thanks for shairng guestblogger!

  31. Thanks for reminding all of us that we need mentors, no matter how good we are or how good we think we are. I have been learning from passive online mentors or the problogger style – such as Darren, for example. I should start getting an actual 1-1 mentor for a faster learning experience. I’m not sure Kill Bill is the type I work best with, since I go pretty Kill Bill on myself in the first place. I wouldn’t need another Kill Bill to kill myself. Thanks for the great post!

    http://celestinechua.com – Personal Development Blog
    Be Your Best Self. Live Your Best Life

  32. Suzi Dafnis says:

    Great post. You’ve been able to articulate the power of mentoring far better than I’ve even been able to. We run an national mentoring program for women business owners (we match newbies with experienced and put the mentorees through a six month business training alongside the mentoring) and I’ll be quoting you!

    The kettle-bell reference peaked my interest. I’m off to the Crossfit Affiliate Challenge next week (and totally bewildered how I got myself into a challenge with crazy fitness fanatics!).

    Thanks for the information and inspiration.

    Suzi Dafnis

  33. Mark Finch says:

    Mentors are a great way to learn. The trouble really is finding one. While Problogger is a great broadcast mentor and everyone can learn a lot by reading Darren, and his guests it really is a one way street. You only learn what they are broadcasting. Although in Darren’s case that is a library of the best as compared to a pamphlet of many others.

    Don’t expect miracles by only using broadcast mentors. They can’t provide the one on one mentoring that you need to succeed. You really have to make a personal connection to a mentor and have that quality one on one time.

  34. David Eedle says:

    Josh

    This is sound and excellent advice. We’ve had a couple of mentors in our business life, but one particularly has guided us for many years. Terry used to be a prominent person (well, pretty much one of the most powerful) in our industry niche. He’s still seen as a maven and opinion leader, and has access and contacts at the highest level across a number of industry areas.

    We originally mustered up courage to ask him to be a guest columnist on our web site. That gave us a great chance to meet face to face, talk about our business, and discover that he seemed to have a real interest in what we were doing with our online company.

    After a while we then mustered up the courage and asked Terry to be our non-exec Chairman – and gratifyingly he accepted, and guided us through the next three years, and the eventual sale of the business to a group of investors.

    These days, having known him for pushing 10 years, he’s now one of our best friends, and godfather to our youngest daughter. We continue to trust him completely for intituitive, lateral thinking advice – or just a cheerup session over red wine if we’re feeling down.

    I’d completely and heartily recommend finding a mentor for you and your business. And don’t be scared to aim high. It surprised us that Terry our mentor, with such a high flying life, could be interested in our little internet venture. In fact, it turned out we were exactly the sort of business he loved to be involved with.

    Best decision of our lives was to arrange the original appointment all those years ago.

    David Eedle
    http://www.NicheContentMillionaire.com

  35. abrablog says:

    The answer is yes. Of course we really need to have our own mentor.

  36. Yes I do. I need a mentor or a teacher who tell me how to blogging and make moeny online.

  37. Robert says:

    Great article. And I must say the mentoring I’ve got just from reading your blogs has been great. So much so I actually had to write a blog on 5 reasons problogger should be on every blogger blogroll and on every blog readers favorite list. Thanks for all the advice and tips. Successful blogging all.

  38. teratips says:

    Thanks for the post!
    Money Blogging Tips
    http://www.teratips.com

  39. ITrush says:

    Do I need a Mentor? Yes, and if anyone here wants to be my friend, I’m open to it. Thanks for sharing this very informative info.

  40. Callie says:
  41. BloggerDaily says:

    I have a simple mentor – blogwalking!

    You’ll find a lot of information, resources, tips and even great E-Books from there!

    Gosh. I love these.

  42. Kmanblogger says:

    I think that mentors are many times more trouble than they’re worth. They often charge too much, don’t REALLY know what they’re talking, and just want advertising. I feel that I have become quite successfull with a simple blogger.com blog.

    Learn more right here http://www.e-zonlinemoney.blogspot.com/