Mentors can appear out of nowhere and usually do. I’ve been lucky to have mentors during several different times and in different areas of my life and I didn’t even have to seek them out. Usually I had put myself in a situation with the right people or the right environment and one way or another they came to me.
Remember that post I did on opportunity? It was pure opportunity that led to one of my most important mentor/mentee relationships early in my law-enforcement career. I had applied to an FBI internship program and was encouraged by a colleague to make an appointment at the local FBI office to see if someone there would write me a letter of recommendation. I was able to make a connection with the Special Agent in Charge of my local office, who was willing to meet with me. Prior to my appointment, I had received a letter from the internship program stating that they had already selected their candidates and that I was not one of them. Talk about a balloon deflating on impact. I was pretty devastated that I wasn’t even given the opportunity to progress in the process. That would have been a great time to throw a pity party.
Instead, I decided to go ahead and take the meeting anyway. Anxious as I was (as a undergrad college student), I met with the agent at the intimidating government office and was upfront with him right away. I stated that I had already been denied but I wanted to take little bit of his time in order to introduce myself and pick his brain about his job. Fortunately, he was more than accommodating and so began a lifelong mentorship and friendship. This was somebody who made himself available for phone calls or emails or meet-ups whenever I was apprehensive about taking a step in a different direction or preparing for a new stage in the hiring process and needed to talk with someone.
Additionally, mentors have of course played a large part in my desire to travel. It was as a graduate student that I was first given the opportunity to present at an international conference (in Australia of all places!) and I have done so every couple of years since. I think I may have been too intimidated to even apply to such a large stage had I not had that push.
Now that I find myself on the other side of the table. I examine what I have treasured most about my mentors and attempt to offer those same attributes to my mentees, students, and interns. I can think back to all of my interests or jobs and pinpoint at least one mentor at each stage. The sweetest, most caring dance teacher, the seasoned stage actress, the worldly federal agent, and the brainiac neuropsychologist. They all have a special place in making me who I am today.
Being a training director and a professor has given me one more aspect of my job to love and another role in which to find growth. Getting started in a new field can be quite daunting and I only hope that I can provide some guidance and feedback to those who are now following in my footsteps as a way of giving back.
Tips for finding a mentor (or having a mentor find you!):
- Make connections that can lead to other connections- never stop making connections! Keep everyone’s card!
- Put yourself in environments where you’re exposed to more seasoned professionals than yourself (conferences, trainings, etc).
- Join student associations in school. Become a student member of professional organizations for the field you are studying. Even high schoolers have great programs for finding mentors, such as Skillify, an incredible organization that pairs students with professionals for one on one conversations about their work.
- Contact people in the field and schedule time to chat with them about their work. In the digital world we live in, this is more acceptable (i.e. LinkedIn).