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August 17, 2010, at 3:26 pm — Blogs / / / /

Mentor me mentoring you

If there are a few words that aptly describe what it’s like to live in New York City, regardless of what professional field you might be in, they would be: network, hustle, mentor. A fantastic combination of the three will not necessarily guarantee success, but put any of them to work in conjunction with one another and you’ll be three steps ahead of the competition.

The first two might seem intuitive – in order to survive in a city like New York, with its debatably isolating, quick pace, it makes sense that hard work and connections are key. What isn’t as obvious, however, is how powerful the gift of mentorship can be. In fact, I’ve found that mentorship is the most commonly overlooked, and probably least well-executed, element of the three.

It’s easy to believe that mentorship is a one-way street. Adopting a mentor seems to be little more than literally latching onto someone in the industry, someone who understands the trials and travails of what you are going through, in order to learn the tricks of the trade. In reality, however, mentees cannot undergo the full growth process that is so indicative of a positive mentor relationship without a good deal of work. Yep, work. Being a good mentee means initiative, follow-up, and humility, three elements that are also indicative of a valuable employee.

Before I even made the big move out here to New York, I had the luck of stumbling into several incredible mentors within the journalism industry, all of whom were at once encouraging and realistic. They encouraged my pursuit of journalism and passed along contacts and tips. They patiently answered questions I had about entering a field that is unpredictable and ever-evolving in nature. And they told me stories of their own journey toward journalistic success.

But the biggest takeaway by far was that none of them told me what to do. There is no distinct path in any career we undertake, and part of being a good mentor is recognizing that and not trying to mold someone else’s future. On the flip side, being a good mentee means also recognizing that and therefore not expecting answers from said mentor. Part of the beauty of mentorship is that both parties learn a lot about their own capabilities as individuals while having the security of an “industry insider” to lean on.

Mentorship is not defined by who gains and who gives. It’s about mutual growth.

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