Perfectionism and Mentoring Don’t Mix

We're all diamonds in the rough.

We’re all diamonds in the rough.

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.  

—Salvador Dali

So true, yet how did our expectations get so out of whack?  What makes us think perfection is at all possible — in ourselves or in other people?

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.   

—George Fisher

You’ve seen the hidden trap of perfectionism in others.  They’ve got great ideas; yet they fail to move forward.  They’re waiting — for the perfect circumstances, the dream project, or the ideal job.  Ironically, all too often we fail to see it in ourselves as well. What are the reasons not to choose a mentor:

  • The Critic:  “I doubt if anyone would have the right experience to be a good mentor for me.  Besides, I’m working on something innovative; no one has done this before.”
  • The Procrastinator: “I’ve even talked to a few people about being my mentor.  But I’m not exactly sure what I really want to do.  I need to wait until I’m fully prepared.”
  • The Fire-fighter:  “I’m too busy already.  How could I possibly find the time.”
  • The Dreamer: “I’ve been thinking about my idea for years.  Some day I’ll start hammering out the details and find the perfect mentor.”
  • The Worrier:  “I’d like a mentor, but I’ve never had one.  I don’t know what to expect.  I don’t want to let them down.  What if it doesn’t work out?”

Are these really strong enough arguments to keep you from excelling?   Not really.

If whatever you want to do is truly important you, you will find the time.  You’ll stop dreaming and act.  You’ll acknowledge your fears and get started.  You’ll find a way. Smart people know the importance of surrounding themselves with other smart people. They seek out others who stretch them — so they can actually achieve more, be more.

But it requires vulnerability and honesty.  

Yes, it’s really tough to admit what you don’t know — especially if you think you should already know it!  And of course we feel more vulnerable tackling our emotional roadblocks: overcoming procrastination, managing our temper or timidity, accepting criticism, or being a control freak.  (Some days perhaps its not one but all of these!)  Even asking someone for support is difficult, particularly when we care very deeply about something.

Why take a risk?  Why be vulnerable?  Why ask for real, long-term support when you work in today’s hyper-critical business world — where excessively high expectations are the norm?  Because it’s your life, your dreams, and your potential that are at stake.  How else do you expect to get to where you want to go?   

Mentoring isn’t therapy, but vulnerability is essential.  Brené Brown explains the power of vulnerability well in her TED Talk.

To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.  —Elbert Hubbard

So get out there. Give yourself permission to let go of perfectionism. Breathe in a giant sigh of relief!  It always feels energizing to me.  (I hate to admit it, but I need to do this mental exercise fairly often!)

Naturally there will always be roadblocks and plenty of surprises, both good and bad.   But imagine what you could achieve with a smart, caring mentor in your corner.  Start thinking about all of the new ideas, innovations, and connections you will make.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t need a perfect plan to get started.  You just need to be open to learning — and to being fully committed to living up to your potential.

The imperfections of a man, his frailties, his faults, are just as important as his virtues.  You can’t separate them.  They’re wedded.   —Henry Miller

No, your mentor won’t be perfect either.  Start off right, assure them that you’re not expecting perfection from them!  You might be surprised just how much that will strengthen your mentoring relationship — and how much more you’ll learn.

So switch off your perfectionism.  Whether you’re a leader, change-agent, entrepreneur or social entrepreneur, surround yourself with smart people who care about you and where you want to go. Focus your actions on finding a mentor — or 2! Just in case one doesn’t turn out to be as perfect a match as you might want. Everyone’s human after all.

Aim for success, not perfection.  Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. — Dr. David M. Burns

Who Will Win the Change the World Contest?

According to a recent The Chronicle of Philanthropy post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes businesses are more likely to change the world than nonprofits because they lack resources.”  Now that’s a quite a challenge to the roughly 1,000,000 US nonprofits.

Is business properly motivated to change the world for the better? Do they have the right mindset? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining momentum, as evidenced by the first virtual CSR conference. (You can access reviews at Fabian Pattberg’s blog.) Taking a closer look at just one issue, sustainability, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.  According to a U.N. Global Compact/Accenture study, “93% of CEOs believe that sustainability is critical to their success.” They believe “a tipping point, meshing sustainability with core business, might be possible within a decade.” Can we afford to wait 10 years?

Two business giants think philanthropy is a way to change the world: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They believe in it so strongly that they launched a campaign to motivate other US billionaires to follow their lead — and donate 50% their wealth to charity. Apparently it’s working, others have already signed on.  That’s certainly connecting smart people and money for change.

Author Nancy Lubin, goes so far as to say the nonprofit world can teach business a thing or two, not the other way around.  In her new book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, she says nonprofits know how to do more with less, while keeping innovation, passion, and creativity high.  Some might argue with Lubin, saying nonprofits are part of the problem, because, like business, they are too invested in their current way of operating — they don’t change, innovate or make any real impact. Others might argue that charities simply don’t operate on the mega scale of business.

But there is a hybrid in the contest too, social enterprise.  It’s a blend of business and nonprofits that are out to change the world — it’s integral to their mission.  And it’s growing.  At this year’s SOCAP10 Conference more than a thousand of the world’s leading social investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders met to invigorate social change.  There are organizations, such as Ashoka and the Social Enterprise Alliance, that support social entrepreneurs, nationally and internationally.  The Hub provides creative meeting places and support, bringing people together with the intention to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.  More companies are touting a “triple bottom line” approach: people, planet, and profits.

Government is a huge player too: city, state, and federal budgets fund billions of dollars toward major projects, many of which are operated by businesses and nonprofits. As an example, The Corporation for National and Community Service is a public/private partnership with a $1.4 billion budget to mobilize more than six million Americans to solve critical problems through national service.  That’s scalable. President Obama launched a $50 million Social Innovation Fund to support promising nonprofit organizations working in low-income communities and leverages private funding.  It’s not a lot of money, in the scheme of things, but it’s a mindset toward more innovation and tangible results.

All the while, millions of people like us are taking action in big and small ways. We affect business, nonprofit, social enterprise, and government through our votes and activism. We’re buying local food, biking to work, writing our senators, and voting for what matters to us with every purchase we make — and changing the world.  Many of us — 41 million people (19% of American adults) — fit a consumer segment called LOHAS, with a focus on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.  We’re becoming more connected too, through communities that are committed to making positive change, such as:

  • informs people about important causes and encourages them to take action — “165,399 actions taken this week.”
  • Worldpulse fosters women’s leadership worldwide, “telling stories of women who had lost everything except their passion for a better future.”
  • promotes volunteerism and nonprofit careers.

So maybe there really is a trend — a contest to see who can save the world. Maybe business will see the huge market potential in CSR.  Maybe nonprofits will see how more results-oriented thinking will help them be more innovative and mission-driven. Maybe social enterprise will become the norm.  Maybe our local and federal government will fund more innovation.  Maybe more individuals will get involved, rather than assuming someone else will naturally do the right thing.

We need everyone testing, experimenting, analyzing, and improving if we’re going to make real progress. I’m hoping everyone will enter the contest.  What can you do?  I’d be interested to hear your stories about what’s actually working to change the world.  Couldn’t we all use a bit more inspiration.

Will the oil spill inspire you to become an Eco-Mentor?

When something the size of the gulf oil spill happens, my frustration builds with each news update.  Naturally I want to help.  But what can I do?  What can any of us do?  We can’t all quit our jobs, rush to the coast, and try to save wildlife.  Besides, how many of us have ever worked cleaning up an oil spill?  How many of us are experts in green technology, climate change, organic farming, or sustainability?

What we can do is start to shift — from the reactive to the proactive.  Let’s share our knowledge today so we can help more people and more places on the planet right now. Match your expertise with something you value, and mentor someone who is working in an eco-based organization or endeavor.

Become a “Green-to-Green, Traditional-to-Green, or Personal Life Eco-Mentor.” To stimulate your creativity, I’ve included a definition and a few examples of each of these three eco-mentor types below.  What if 1,000 people became eco-mentors? Now imagine if that number were 100,000.  Just think what we could accomplish for the planet.

Eco-Mentors:  Green-to-Green

If you already work in an environmentally focused job (green, environmental, sustainability, organic, bio dynamic, recycling, upcycling, etc.), you’ve got a head start on many of us.  Your experience is so valuable because you know what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed — in the green economy.  Accelerate the learning and mentor someone else who is already green.

  1. Mentor someone in a similar position and a similar organization.  You might have significantly more experience than the person you mentor — or you might be peers.  Peer-to-peer mentoring can be very effective even when the individuals have similar knowledge levels — it’s particularly important in rapidly changing fields. (And whose isn’t rapidly changing these days?)  An organic restaurant owner could mentor another organic restaurant owner in a nearby town or another region.
  2. Mentor someone in a similar job but in another type of organization. Cross-pollinating ideas often sparks creativity, which is a key benefit of this type of mentoring.  If you work in human resources for a green manufacturer, ideas and programs that are common among manufacturers might be new and innovative to someone in an energy audit nonprofit.
  3. Mentor someone in your organization that works a different department or job.  Because everyone in an organization might get involved in social media, a social media expert could mentor anyone at any level, at any age.  If you are that person, you could mentor people in accounting, purchasing, sales, management, marketing and many more.

Eco-Mentors: Traditional-to-Green

Most of us aren’t in “green jobs,” but we can help the environment by mentoring someone who is. As an eco-mentor, you help someone build confidence, avoid problems, expand their network, and more — but you don’t need to know everything about their job, organization or industry.  You provide them with support, helping them over time, as they learn, adapt, and make progress towards their goals.

An accountant in a traditional industry could mentor an accountant in a green industry.  An entrepreneur in a traditional industry could share her knowledge with a green entrepreneur that is starting a new organization.  A nonprofit fundraiser could mentor a social enterprise executive director about relationship management.  Expertise could be shared and cross-pollinated between people and organizations in so many ways, that the challenge is for you to narrow down your choices!  More examples:

  • Accountant for a food wholesaler Seek out an accountant that works for an alternative energy firm to mentor, such as a wind farm, a solar panel manufacturer, or biofuel.
  • Community Organizer Mentor someone from a green-focused nonprofit or NGO who could benefit from your expertise.
  • Consultant Take on an eco-business as a pro bono project.
  • Copyright Lawyer for a bank Help an eco-friendly manufacturer protect their household products by mentoring their in-house council.
  • Corporate Tax Manager for an insurance company Mentor a social enterprise CEO and help her better understand tax issues and opportunities.
  • Human Resources Manager for a retailer Find a smaller organization and mentor the human resources manager.
  • Information Technology Manager for an airline Mentor an IT manager in a green business.
  • International Marketing Manager Mentor someone in an eco-business in one of the countries you already serve.
  • Investment Manager for an international financial services company Mentor a nonprofit Executive Director about investment risks and strategies.
  • Healthcare Administrator Mentor someone in a similar administrative position in an eco-business.
  • Plant Manager Mentor someone in a green manufacturing business.
  • Purchasing Manager for a manufacturer Seek out a high-growth eco-products company and help them learn how to expand, nationally or internationally.
  • Restaurant Owner Mentor someone who is launching an organic bakery or restaurant.
  • Social Media Manager Mentor a manager in a retail based green business.

Eco-Mentor:  Personal Life

Though mentoring is often work-related, eco-mentoring can be equally useful in our personal lives: at home, at school, and in our communities.  We need to share more of this type of expertise. Sure, there are many online resources, but nothing can replace person-to-person support when we’re learning something new.

  • Eco-Mentor: Bike-to-work If you’re part of the millions of Americans who do, consider mentoring someone who is going to try it this year.  Support them while they overcome all the obstacles you did: adjusting to weather conditions, outsmarting bike thieves, or coping with traffic.
  • Eco-Mentor: Simplified Lifestyle Have you dramatically simplified your life or become an “unconsumer?”  Perhaps you’ve reduced your carbon footprint, downsized to a smaller house or apartment, and switched to local and organic foods. Mentor someone who is trying to simplify their life by sharing what worked for you and help them find their own way to simplify.
  • Eco-Mentor: Recycling Program Have you launched a recycling program for your child’s school or your town?  Then you know how complex a challenge it is to bring people together and actually get it implemented. Seek out someone in another school or town to mentor during the year.  Help them get off to a good start and give them a better chance of success.  There are so many different types of recycling programs (Hennepin County even has tips for organic recycling tips for schools) and so many places that still need them.
  • Eco-Mentor: Inner-city Gardening Have you started a gardening program for your school or town?  If so, you know more of them are being created all across the country to fight obesity, improve nutrition, and provide local food sources.  You may have seen the movie, Fresh, and know about Will Allen’s legendary north country garden.  So many people are interested in this and could surely benefit from your insights, your mentoring.

This is was a short list of eco-mentoring possibilities.   I hope you’ll send in more examples of how people can become eco-mentors.  We need more ways to inspire people to think about ways their experience can help the planet.

Most of all, I hope you’re inspired to take your own expertise, whatever you’re passionate about, and find someone to mentor.

For tips on how to find a mentor or be a mentor (and find the time to do it), watch this site for future blogs.