Your Best New Years Resolution: Find a Mentor

Get the insight and support you need to move ahead.

National Mentoring Month just happens to coincide with our annual ritual of making New Years resolutions.  As we reflect on the frustrations or lost opportunities, and all that we dream about, it is the ideal time to take stock in what we really want to happen — this year!

All too often, we do nothing more than make a good list and attempt a few weeks of effort.  Then, little changes.

Life is about moving; it’s about change.  And when things stop doing that, they’re dead.  — Twyla Tharp


This year, try something new: Find a Mentor! Research shows that going it alone isn’t the quickest or best path to success. So regardless of what you do in 2011, a mentor can help you get there. They can help you be more effective, encourage you during setbacks, ask thoughtful questions, help avoid problems, offer real world solutions or realistic alternatives you might never have even considered.

Finding a good mentor is like finding a good job.  If you know what you want, and set clear goals, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for — and make changes that are important to you.

3 STEPS TO HELP YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT

1. Set Goals — What’s On Your List of New Year’s Resolutions?

Mentors can benefit you in so many ways that it’s important to think through what you want.  Make sure you look for a mentor that has the skills, experience, or insights that are right for you.

What do you want your future to look like? What do you dream about? What do you want to achieve? Do you dare to radically raise the bar? What would you like to change or improve? Are you unhappy at work? Career passion shouldn’t be an oxymoron. If you’re not sure what you want, a mentor can help you figure it out too.  Crystallize your goals to narrow your search:

  • I’m frustrated in my current job. I need help figuring out if I should stay or if I should make a change.
  • I want my own business. I have an idea but I’m not sure how to get started.
  • I’m really unhappy at work, burned out. I could use help figuring out how to juggle my job, my family, and having a life.
  • I run a nonprofit, but I’m having trouble managing my board.
  • I think I’m ready for a promotion, but my boss doesn’t think so.  What can I do?
  • I’ve been looking for a job for nearly 2 years.  I need someone to help regain my confidence.
  • I’ve always thought about working for a nonprofit. I’d like to talk to someone who switched from corporate life.
  • I’m doing okay as an artist, but I need someone to help me get to the next level.
  • I’m great at marketing, but I need more management experience.
  • I like my job right now, but I want to explore my options.

2. Select Criteria — What type of mentor do you want?

What makes a good match?  Think about a teacher or boss who made it easy for you to learn, and helped and encouraged you to achieve more than you thought you could. What type of person was it that helped you open doors, see strengths you didn’t know you had, or kept you focused and on track? What were the key things they did that led to your success?  Identify your top 3-5 must-haves. Narrow down your criteria so you don’t waste time interviewing mentors who aren’t a good fit.

Consider what’s really important: chemistry, communication, conflict of interest, experience, pet peeves, similarities, time commitment, trust, and values.

Example: Business Start Up I’m seeking a business owner who successfully operates an organic restaurant.  I would like one, like me, who is enthusiastic and positive, though a bit more down-to-earth.  I will probably need to meet every two weeks for a few months until I get my business plan figured out, and then monthly for the first year.

Example: Accelerating the Career Ladder I want a mentor with 10+ years of marketing experience in the health and wellness area who has been very successful in her career.  I prefer a woman — someone like me who is working long hours in a demanding job and yet still manages to have a great family life and take time for herself. I need to make sure it isn’t someone who works for one of our competitors, and I would like it to be someone who isn’t in the healthcare industry.

Example: Burned Out, Exploring Options I am hoping to find a practical person who has opted out of the fast track and simplified their life. Ideally, it would be someone who has retired early and switched careers to something they really enjoy. I certainly don’t need someone lecturing me — a know-it-all. I’d like to meet every week at first, until I’m on my way. Then monthly. Probably 6 months would do it.

3. Evaluate your options

You’ll be investing a lot of yourself.  Your mentor will be, too  — volunteering their time, insights, and experience. So  it’s essential that you carefully evaluate your options.  And be open.  Don’t be surprised if you end up refining your goals or selection criteria as you gain more insight into what you really want. Remember: the best relationships are give-and-take. Choose 2-3 candidates to initially talk with, and then select the one who will support you — make real progress toward your goals.

Find a mentor and you just might achieve those New Year resolutions!

Why You Should Radically Raise the Bar

If you’re truly motivated to improve your life, incremental change won’t get you there — not fast enough. What we need is inspiration — something that sparks action, risk taking, and commitment. Often we have some vague notion of what we want in life, but we don’t allow ourselves to dream — let alone dream big.

What's your seemingly impossible dream? What will inspire you to radically raise the bar?

If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success. — James Cameron

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.” — Michelangelo

And then we don’t raise the bar again.

Naturally if you’re living your passion, perhaps your biggest challenge is making it happen.  If you’re reading this, it is more likely that you’re not quite there. Maybe you haven’t given up, but you aren’t fully committed either. Raising the bar isn’t about pushing you to burnout. It’s about encouraging you to become more authentic — to fully apply your strengths to what matters to you.

Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today. — James Dean

What’s stopping you? Thought leader Edward de Bono warns us about complacency:

1. Cozy complacency: You convince yourself that life is adequate as it is. This isn’t about endless second-guessing your life choices or wondering if your life is keeping up with the Joneses. Get out of your comfort zone but avoid rushing to a decision.  Overcome this urge with thoughtful analysis so you avoid looking back at this point in time — wishing you made better choices.

2. Lack-of-vision complacencyYou box yourself into your current situation. You can’t envision living any differently.  You see limitations: family role, financial situation, social class, career or age group.  It’s hard to imagine anything different.  You lack support or the courage to rock the boat. You shut yourself down well before the idea even leaves your head.  Allow time to fantasize; look for stories of lives or lifestyles that appeal to you.  Engage others in brainstorming too, so you’ll explore options you’d normally never consider.

3. Arrogant complacencyYou stubbornly cling to your opinions. This is a difficult one, which requires the toughest examination. Often we rationalize how we’re getting by with too little or we convince ourselves that we’re living the good life.  Only we don’t pay attention to the cracks.  We’re too busy selling our lives to ourselves. Pay close attention to your intuition and early warning signs: a nagging health issue, a quiet whisper that you’d rather get out of what you’re doing, or the years are ticking by.

These examples are overly simplified, yet perilously real. The mind is exceptional at rationalizing our behavior. In the words of Sigmund Freud: to be completely honest with oneself is the very best effort a human being can make.  Remember it’s your life you’re talking about.  Dare to think about what is really important. Live a life worth living — your own view of what that is, that is what matters most.

How do you overcome complacency? What you need is an idea so compelling, so inspiring that it will ignite you out of your comfort zone and into a better future.

Raise the bar by setting your own “big, hairy, audacious goal,” a term coined by business guru Jim Collins, in his book Built to Last.  According to Tom Peters, that isn’t quite enough.  You need a goal that is both clear and compelling.  Some business concepts don’t translate easily into our personal lives, but this idea of setting a big, hairy, audacious goal for yourself — one that you can actually visualize — is certainly worthy of consideration.

A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions. — Anonymous

President Kennedy inspired Americans to care and believe about space travel — in 1961!   He did it with a clear, concise, seemingly unrealistic challenge — to be the first country to land on the moon.  He said, I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

On a personal level, setting the bar that extreme might seem too grandiose or ridiculous. We muse about an idea, but we don’t make the commitment and set an urgent goal or marshal our resources to insure their fulfillment. 

These all started as a dream, but someone decided to make a commitment:

Mark Twain said it well: A man with a new idea is a crank — until he succeeds.

Anything that really inspires you is likely to be complicated.  So get comfortable making mistakes. Raising the bar not only requires rapid learning but getting comfortable making mistakes. We live in a world that seems to demand flawless perfection every time — a harsh critic of failure.  Coming in second is equivalent to “losing.”

We need to take Samuel Beckett’s advice:  Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

And of course, try again.

Naturally that’s easier said than done. As humans we have a built-in negativity bias! We are hard wired to pay much more attention to problems — dramatically more attention. Thanks to evolution, I guess it makes sense.  To stay alive we simply had to learn to adapt quickly to threats — it meant life or death.  According to author Jonathan Haidt, psychologists consistently find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. Positives just don’t carry the same weight. I didn’t want to believe this, but here is just one example, called marriage math by Psychology Today.  After just one negative experience with your spouse it takes at least five positive experiences to patch things up.

So manage your negativity bias and keep a close watch out for motivation killers. Dean Rieck’s blog, 8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success, has practical ideas to overcome your inner critic.  (Although written for the marketing world, Rieck’s ideas are universal.)

Still not convinced to radically raise the bar for yourself?  Take a look at Divine Caroline’s blog:  Ten Lies You’ll Hear Before Pursuing Your Dream. As she says, working hard on your dream will be very hard work, but at least you’ll be devoting your time, creativity, and energy on something that truly matters to you.  That’s positive in itself!  Here’s hoping you find inspiration to dream and do something that you wouldn’t dream of doing…without!

Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare. — Japanese Proverb


Is it crazy to consider a career shift in this economy?

Is now the right time? When would it be a good time? Certainly there are valid reasons not to change. The economy is tough and if you’re earning a decent living it is easy to rationalize staying where you are.  All too often we put this decision off.  We wait for the perfect time or for the perfect opportunity to come to us.

Interestingly enough, many of us are living in limbo. We aren’t fully committed to our current career or to figuring out what might be a better option.  Isn’t life too short to linger in a career that isn’t a good fit anymore?  Why wait — until you’re too locked into your current situation to change, you can’t stand your work situation any longer, or you’ve actually lost your job — before you actively consider a career shift? Exploring options while you’re in your back-up mode — worrying about finances or feeling like you’re living in limbo — isn’t an ideal environment to be open to new possibilities or actively take a risk.  (It can work, but the stress can be stifling.)

Time is life’s real currency. Are you living your life’s currency wisely?

Why not invest in yourself now? Doesn’t it make more sense to do it while you have the energy to thoughtfully evaluate your possibilities?

Time is life’s real currency.  The heart of the question is: Are you living your life’s currency wisely? Many of us start our careers optimistically, without much analysis of our choice.  Out in the real world, we gradually figure out that it was nothing like we had imagined.  Few of us did more than rudimentary skills testing.  Perhaps only a fraction of us found a mentor to help us provide real-world insights to see if we were making a good choice.  Maybe you loved your job for years; only now it has lost the excitement or the meaning it once held.  Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be quite successful, too well, in fact, so that you don’t even consider what might make you happier — your “best self.”  Let’s hope we don’t sell out for golden handcuffs, especially if the salary isn’t all that great to begin with (or even if it is), because it’s our lives we’re talking about here!

Why not raise the bar? Consider a career change to find one that is more interesting, rewarding, and meaningful — perhaps one that is “more livable” too.  Naturally all careers have trade-offs, but the trouble is that we don’t often take the time to find a better match for ourselves.  We stay where we started just because it seems easier.  On reflection, and once we’ve made the shift, we wonder why we waited so long!  (Some of you may find that this process helps you determine that you’re in the right career; all you needed was a little rejuvenation!)

Take the time to imagine what your life would be like if only you could make a shift. According to Civic Ventures, more than 8 million Americans between 44 and 77 are embarking on new careers. We’ve all heard stories, but somehow we can’t see ourselves — our options.  So stimulate your thinking with a few real life examples:

  • An intellectual property consultant switched to his love of the ocean and now sells sailboats.
  • A banker opted out of corporate life; he prefers to work on his own, remodeling houses.
  • A computer programmer went back to school for a degree in nonprofit management; and now works in energy conservation.
  • A beautician went back to school to become a massage therapist.
  • A stockbroker now teaches fitness and relaxation.
  • A photographer’s representative switched to planning travel for touring musicians.
  • A public relations consultant who loves language, is now a teacher (teaching English to French students).
  • A copywriter went back to school to become an acupuncturist.
  • A dancer/actress became a marketing consultant (also farms part-time).
  • A marketing strategist became a stay-at-home dad, web entrepreneur, and real estate investor.

Don’t start exploring career options with the job market.  Start by asking the more important question: “What do I really want?” Career experts often recommend evaluating the future growth in a particular field, researching potential employers, estimating income and advancement options, etc.  That’s vitally important, but that’s actually the easy part — and it shouldn’t be where you start.

External analysis should come AFTER your internal analysis, which is often more challenging. You know yourself better than you did right after college or your first job. All too often, we know what we don’t want rather than what we want.  Knowing what we don’t want helps us cross options off the list, which is good. Getting us out of our routine and into the more exciting, dynamic world of our passions, possibilities, and motivations is what’s key.  Of course, money matters.  But it’s not solely about the money.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, you’re more likely to be successful when you find a strong convergence between these two factors:

  • a career that taps into your values (meaning), interests, and abilities and
  • a vibrant field with plenty of job options and upward mobility — and one valued by society.

Start exploring career options by expanding your network. One of the biggest barriers is your existing network. Colleagues know you only in your current role — which is a very narrow view of your potential. Schedule informational interviews with people outside of your current circle — people who are open to seeing you in new roles.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to network these days. Even though everyone is busy, most people want to expand their network too.  Make a commitment to yourself to meet at least one new person each week — with the precise intent of helping to identify what you value, your deepest passion, and your strongest interests. Meet in person, over coffee or lunch, so you can truly to get to know one another in a meaningful way. Be sure to help them expand their network too.

Remember to document what you learn from each interview. Keeping track of your efforts will help you feel like you’re making progress.  It’s likely to take time to piece together all the components of a successful career move. Unless you’ve been training as a concert pianist since the 2nd grade, and built up 10,000 hours of practice, chances are you’ll be in the research phase for a while.  If you’re typically used to making quick decisions, try to enjoy the process and allow yourself time to dig past the first good idea.  For people that love thinking about options, find someone that will help keep you on track so you don’t get lost in the options — a colleague, a coach, or mentor.

It’s important to remember that your career isn’t limited by your direct experience. Sure, many employers are looking for someone with a perfect fit.  But more and more, smart business people know that skills can be taught.  What matters more is a person’s ability to learning and adapt.  As the senior editor at Inc Magazine, Norm Brodsky says, companies should “hire for attitude not skills.”

Authentic Mentoring

Why mentor someone? Everyone is busy.  No one boasts about having too much time on their hands.  Yet people offer their time, energy, insights and knowledge to others — often complete strangers. These strangers reach out to connect and offer up their best selves to help someone else.

It seems odd perhaps, in a world that emphasizes networking (even speed-networking), to consider the exact opposite — taking the time to truly get to know someone well enough to provide meaningful support. Wanting to give someone advice is easy; you see a problem and you think, “I know how to fix it.”  Offering advice is easy too, especially if you aren’t really responsible for the outcome.  Authentic mentoring, on the other hand, takes time — quality time  — and your commitment to stay connected.

Allow people to see your authentic self

Mentoring is unique; it’s different from life coaching, executive coaching, therapy, and consulting. Each of these options can provide tremendous benefits.  But money changes everything — our expectations and the dynamics of any relationship. As a mentor, you are offering yourself — one person to one person.  Yes, there is always opportunity for mutual benefit; and this is usually the case with good mentor matches.  But an authentic mentor places the emphasis on the person they are mentoring, not the next billable hour, next client referral, or even the drive to reach a specific achievement.

A mentor is there first and foremost to provide support — a deeper leverage point.  It takes a real relationship to feel any significant level of support, to encourage real change. That entails getting together often, maybe weekly, for six months or a year.  You’re there as the conversation deepens and the topics become more complex.  You’re helping someone overcome obstacles and make real progress.

At it’s best, I believe a mentor serves as a role model for being open minded, building trust, and being authentic. This mirrors the teachings from a two-day Mindful Leadership retreat I attended early this month. Bill George, Harvard Business professor and former CEO of Medtronic, and Yongey Mingur Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk, lead discussions about emotional intelligence, happiness, compassion, active listening, self-actualization, building trust — all essential components of authentic mentoring.

Bill George was quite frank, remarkably open during his interactions with us.  In front of 400 people, he was striving to walk his talk.  He was vulnerable and acknowledged his greatest fear: “becoming obsolete.”  At first glance, it might be easy to discount his “vulnerability,” since he has been so successful and still has a great deal of influence.  But that is precisely why he was so intriguing to me.  My experience with successful business people has been that it is too risky for them to remove the mask in public, even slightly, and admit their weaknesses, mistakes, or fears.

George admitted to being impatient and a host of other shortcomings, all leading up to his currently held belief in self-knowledge and self-control, which he said are important if we are to truly lead others. He went further, stating that we need to move beyond the use of our minds (which he said may be overvalued in our society) and use our hearts as well.  This was clearly not your typical left-brain, command and control leadership approach, of which George declared, “It is dead,” or dying, and enlisted us to “help him kill it!”

So how do we become better leaders, better mentors in a world where authenticity is not the norm? I think one of the best ways to accomplish this is for all of us to become authentic mentors. Lead by example. Start changing. Increase EQ (vs. IQ): increase emotional intelligence through self-awareness.  Be open and vulnerable. Share your life story — your successes and failures. Allow others to learn from our entire range of experiences not just our success.  We’re all human.  None of us live perfect lives or can give “perfect advice.” But we can show up with that rare ingredient — authenticity — so we are better equipped to offer thoughtful counsel.

It is tough taking a chance on someone, to seek a mentor to ask for guidance, particularly if they are perceived to have no weakness, no heart.  Keep in mind that the person you are mentoring is constantly asking:  “Can I trust this person?” As we allow others to see our authentic self, they are more likely to trust us, to open up and tell us the truth — about their real issues, deeper problems.  This way we can offer more than a quick-fix or bad advice.  Instead we’re more likely to probe further, listen more, and help someone think through their situations for more meaningful action.

I know that the more I mentor others, the more critically I evaluate myself and learn more about what’s important to me. I take mentoring quite seriously even though I fall short at times. Was I actively listening or running other projects through my head as we were talking?  Was I trying too hard to solve the problem quickly rather than asking better questions? Was I giving feedback in a way they would hear it or was I merely being efficient?  Did they see me consider their feedback to me in a way that showed I took it to heart?  Nothing is more important to me than connecting with someone on what matters most to them. It is an honor that another person opens up to me, sharing their dreams and fears.

I hope you’ll be inspired to mentor someone. You don’t need to be a superstar or a former CEO, just someone who is willing to share their hard-earned experience and real-world insights.  If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, please contact me.  MentorPlanet.com is getting ready to launch.  I hope you’ll be a part of it.  So send me an email and I’ll send you the details. I already have profiles on lots of people that are looking for mentors. Mentors Wanted!

What stimulates innovation more: caring or crisis?

Perhaps that is another proverbial chicken or egg question.  But it is important for us to think about.

As each day of the BP oil spill goes by without any real progress, I wonder how it affects the American psyche.  Is the crisis motivating action or fueling hopelessness? In a recent article, Philippe Cousteau, makes a strong statement: How U.S. responds to spill reflects the soul of this country.

In any tough situation, how we respond matters. Take the financial crisis.  It shook things up for all of us. And it’s continuing to shake things up for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.  How do we respond as the uncertainty continues, (Wells Fargo: The Moderate Recovery Continues, but Is It Sustainable?)

To find out how the financial crisis is affecting Health and Human Services Organizations, I attended a conference, United Front: Advancing the Common Good in the New Normal. Here’s what I learned:

  1. More people need more services — caused by the financial crisis.
  2. Significantly less funding is available — from government (state/federal) and foundations.
  3. State and federal budget deficits look bleak for a long time ($55 trillion US federal deficit).
  4. The worst of the recession may be over — but recovery won’t be easy.
  5. Jobs lost won’t be recovered until 2013 — 8.4 million jobs in the US.
  6. Wages fell — significantly — for the first time in 40 years.
  7. Aging boomers will choke the healthcare system with end-of-life expenses.

Gloomy indeed.  Will this stimulate action and innovation? According to economist, Dr. Tom Stinson, that’s precisely what we need to do.  We can’t keep doing the same things the way we’ve always done them — or get by trying to work harder with less.  We need to significantly improve productivity through what Stinson referred to as disruptive innovation.

The good news is that while most people don’t think of themselves as innovators, they do consider themselves to be problem solvers. So think of disruptive innovation as problem solving on steroids — or problem solving with passion.

Apparently disruptive innovation is just what’s needed to reform healthcare according to a Business Week article by disruptive innovation expert Clayton Christensen.  He recommends… “moving the simplest procedures now performed in expensive hospitals to outpatient clinics, retail clinics, and patients’ homes. Costs will drop as more of the tasks performed only by doctors shift to nurses and physicians’ assistants. Hoping that our hospitals and doctors will become cheap won’t make health care more affordable and accessible, but a move toward lower-cost venues and lower-cost caregivers will.”  Conference speaker, Mary Brainerd, President and CEO of Health Partners, is doing that, locating retail clinics in neighborhoods and sharing expensive technology.  Michael Porter, Harvard Business School professor, spoke last week at the World Innovation Foundation conference, where he recommended focusing on increasing healthy outcomes rather than just cost savings.  Others might argue that disruptive innovation in healthcare can only be achieved through improved nutrition, exercise, and alternative healthcare.

Whether you believe in any of these healthcare solutions doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we get more people involved solving problems they truly care about. We can’t leave innovation to just a few people at the top, in a special job, or task group.

How do we foster thoughtful innovation? There are no easy answers.  Taking risks is ever easy — with or without a crisis.  How can you get motivated if you’re worried about making a mistake, being criticized, or losing our job?  It’s hard enough when funding is tight and where new initiatives are rare.  It’s even harder if an innovative idea failed; institutional memory is long where failure is involved.  If you’ve never participated in anything you consider innovative, how do you know where to start? If we care about our work, we need to find ways to motivate ourselves.  We take risks everyday; we just don’t always see it that way.  As management guru Peter F. Druker points out: “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.  People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

I suggest that to increase your comfort level and likelihood for success, talk to people who are doing it right now.   Seek out someone who’s willing to support you as you test the waters on your idea.  Find a mentor.  Find ways to gain insights and the confidence you need to be more innovative.

Look for innovative ideas that inspire you. While they might not have anything to do with what you’re doing right now, perhaps you’ll start to think differently.  I’m inspired by the enormity of innovative projects streaming my way everyday.  What appeals to me are practical examples, what people are accomplishing today even while the financial crisis continues. A lot is happening as the lines between business, nonprofits and government agencies are evolving.  The concepts of social enterprise, triple bottom line, and corporate social responsibility are forging new collaborations, new possibilities, and higher expectations.  Here’s a great example: A seemingly unlikely collaboration, Coke and Greenpeace partnered to reduce the beverage company’s biggest carbon footprint caused by 10 million vending machines.

Links to Innovators

Whatever you’re passionate about, I hope you won’t wait for a crisis to motivate you. Innovate because you care — be a proactive problem solver with a passion. And seek out the support you need to help you be more successful when you do.

Kick-start Innovation: Are you looking for a fun, easy way to get people thinking and exploring new ideas?  The Creative Whack Pack is something I’ve been using to help start the conversation for decades.

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I’d Love to Change the World, But I Don’t Know What to Do

Cynicism and ambivalence are fueled as easily today as they were in the early ‘70s when the rock band Ten Years After wrote those lyrics. Forty years later, our endless media blitz spews out a dizzying array of global problems — yet another war, billions living in poverty, millions displaced by earthquakes, devastation from climate change — you name it.   Add that to what’s happening in your own neighborhood — high unemployment, gang violence, political corruption — and any effort to change the world seems nearly impossible.

And it’s not all bad news. Every day, every aspect of life is being explored. Billions and billions of possibilities exist — understanding how the mind works, extending life past 100, searching for other life in the universe, and more. The world is changing in astoundingly positive ways.  Through the internet, anyone can access all of MIT’s lecture notes, exams, and videos for free.  There have been vast improvements in economic and social development, as Dr. Hans Rosling shows us in his video: “the best stats you’ve ever seen.” Because more people want to make positive change, there are many more nonprofit start-ups. Even the U.S. Government is getting more involved; Obama created a new fund to invest $50 million in promising, results-oriented non-profits.

With all these problems and opportunities, it’s daunting.

Where to start? What can any one person do?

Help one other person. Help them directly, person-to-person. Be a mentor.

Anyone can be a mentor because all you need to do is be your authentic self. It’s as easy as sharing what you already know.  Share your real-world experience, knowledge you’ve acquired in your career, and personal insights you’ve gained at work or in your personal life.  Ask questions. Actively listen. Share your successes and your struggles. No one ever achieved anything without having to tackle roadblocks along the way. Give someone a window into your world, so they can better visualize their own way. You don’t need to be a celebrity, leading expert, or world-renown expert.

While we could argue about what is the most accurate definition of a mentor, in my opinion, a mentor is NOT someone…

  • That offers a few hours of her time over lunch.
  • Answers a chat room question.
  • Who knows “exactly” what someone “should” do.
  • That is selling something — a consultant, a life-coach, or a therapist.

Instead, I think of a mentor as a smart friend — a blend of head and heart. A good mentor cares; someone that is truly invested in another’s success. They are there for the long haul, supporting someone for six months or more.  They help someone sort though options, tackle tough problems — and make meaningful change in their lives.

A good mentor takes time to get to know the person they are mentoring, beyond the veneer. They know it’s essential to build trust in order to present one’s true self. Discussing strengths and successes is far easier than talking about the sensitive areas of inconsistencies and weaknesses. A good mentor offers more than objectivity. They go beyond the quick-fix and get on to the hard work of finding out what might actually help. That’s what it takes before you can ask questions with greater relevance — so you can provide insightful responses.

A mentor is someone that is there for the long-haul, supporting someone for six months or more.  A mentor helps someone sort though options, tackle tough problems, and make meaningful change in their lives.

That’s why I’m launching Mentor Planet.  I believe we all could use a smart friend, someone that cares about us — our struggles and helps with our success.

I believe we all could use a smart friend, someone that cares about us — and helps us lead happier, more authentic lives. Look for MentorPlanet.com, coming soon (before the end of 2010).

Imagine a world where everyone had a mentor.  Imagine how we could change the world.

So this Earth Day, be a changemaker. Start mentoring.

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