What is a mentor?

A mentor is a guide who can help you to find the right direction and develop solutions to personal and professional issues. I have been very lucky to have had a couple of them. Their impact on me had been deep and lasting. But, why?

From my experience

I have always been a kind of a vendor. There has always been a salesman in me.

As a child I used to sell every kind of things. For example, I used to charge a small fee to my friends or neighbours for reading my Asterix and Obelix comics. I sold hand-made labyrinths and I even put a price on my jokes.

My parents did not discourage me, but they neither encourage a lot this behaviour. They are awesome parents, but maybe they did not see the vendor in me. You can’t blame them, because I did not see it either until a few years ago.

During my 20s I tried to have a business on my own. Something on the side. I saw it (and I still do it) as an activity apart from my daily job. My first serious attempt to do it was in the vending-machine business. It seems as a practical and profitable way to start. So, I did my homework, read a lot about the business and the technicalities of the machines and finally make the tough decision of taking almost all my life-savings to visit a vending machines seller.

The guy who sold the machines was attentive and nice, but not much of a coach or anything. He simply sold the devices, but he did not know anything about the “business” per se. However, he was nice enough to recommend me to contact a guy who did know about it. Actually, he called him right there and handed me the phone.

“Let’s have a coffee” – said the voice at the other end of the line.

I met Ruben the very next day in a coffee nearby. My first mentor happened to be an amicable and cool guy in his forties, married with children (2), and full time employee at a corporation in town.

To the moment I was amazed about the openness of Ruben. At the phone he did not hesitate at all to meet me, and there at the coffee, he was being completely transparent about the business and all. He said he will gladly be willing to help me out and share everything he knew about the business; he only asked me for one thing before starting the real talk: to read a book.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. To be honest, I did not want to read the book. I have never been very fond of what I considered back then as self-help or motivation books. However, it seemed as a fair deal. So, I put aside my ideas and prejudices (a bit) in order to get help from Ruben.

David Cohen – founder and CEO of TechStars – mentions in this note that best mentors are those who challenge you to exceed your goals. In doing so, they help you uncover new opportunities.

Ruben challenge my mindset in that first meeting. I am not able to say if it was intentional or not (and it is fine, mentors should have also a bit of mysticism), but it truly took down barriers that day.

I certainly learned some useful stuff from Kiyosaki’s book (more than imagined and another post material), but the biggest learnings came from Ruben. He gave me right there my first lesson: stay open and receptive. I uncovered new opportunities, as Cohen mentioned. Now, I see that moment as a tipping point for our relationship. The moment he started mentoring me.

Ruben, the Mentor

Shawn Doyle – best selling author on Amazon and a certified corporate coach – says in this article that a mentor fills gaps such as inexperience or lack of skills and can help you to avoid the I-wish-I-would-have-thought-of-that moment.

David Clutterbuck, an academic who studied mentoring relationships, coined an acronym for what mentors do:

Ruben did exaclty what the acronym says and more.

He certainly took care of our relationship, he attended to all the meeting we needed, picked the phone constantly and made me confident encouraging me and my business ambitions. Moreover, he let me take a look at his own life, his plans, and ambitions. I learned from him not only things that I wanted to do, but also things that I did not want to do. The guy was always keen to listen and eager to share.

Ruben taught me everything he knew about the business. I learned about work-life balance. I became more competente and I learned critical skills and also how to transfer some of them. The guy even taught me how to know when to quit.

Ruben was my first mentor (at a formal and an informal level). He reinforced on me how important is to listen to others, to pay attention to people experiences and I also learned that one must not be jealous about knowledge and expertise.

Having met Ruben is one of the greatest things ever happened to me. I understood how important is to have a mentor, a guide, a person able to give you orientation. As time went, the mentorship became friendship, and that’s another thing I am grateful for.

Sheila Eugenio – Digital Marketing Consultant – says there are many reasons to find a mentor: getting experience not shared in any book, tested guidance, keeping the spirits up, and receiving encouragement, etc. All of them true and super valuable.

However, I think the most important thing I learned from Ruben, was something he did not directly said: to share. He shared his experience, his time, his attention, and part of his life to a complete stranger like me. Something that Susan Johnston, marketing specialist, says is a characteristic of great mentors: he was generous with his resources and time.

Having a mentor gave me a lot. It fostered that vendor in me and added a lot to my life. Today, I am still getting the benefits of being mentored and all I hope is to be able to do the same for others, just like Ruben did for me.

At this point I think my point is clear. However, you may be asking yourself: ok, a mentor is important but how to find one?

Wait for my next post. I will tell you how to do it.

Let me know what do you think and share this article to someone you think will find it helpful.

Diego is an experienced learning advisor, a certified trainer and a design thinking consultant.

He is available for advisory where the focus is on driving trascendental learning and lasting change. Moreover, he is always eager to chat.