• Praxis
  • Four Things Better Than a Mentor

There’s a lot of buzz about mentorship.  Find the mentor who will give you the edge to succeed!  The more powerful the mentor, the better!  Chill out.  Mentorship is overrated.
I’ve written elsewhere about how mentors don’t have the answers:

“You should always remember that no mentor has the answers to your questions. They have answers to their own questions.”

It’s valuable to be around smart people who know more or have more experience.  But don’t put all your eggs in one mentor basket or hitch to their success wagon and hope it carries you into the sunset (I tried to fit a few more metaphors in but I couldn’t).

Social capital > mentorship

Instead, build a big reserve of social capital with a variety of people you respect and can gain from.  Here’s a little more about social capital:

“Every time we interact cordially with another person, we generate some good will.  It’s like putting a deposit into a social bank account with their name on it.  A simple smile and a handshake is worth a little.  A interesting conversation is worth more.  Connecting them to an idea or person of value to their goals, offering insightful feedback, or helping them achieve something can be worth quite a bit.  Being reliable, and doing these things consistently over time can build up a massive balance.  When you consider all the people you know and meet, it’s easy to see how a diverse portfolio of social capital can accumulate.  In the long-term, this social capital is more valuable than money, education, or credentials.”

Your “circle” > your mentor

Jim Rohn famously said you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.  There’s a lot of truth in that, and it means picking a single mentor is less important than cultivating an “inside circle” of friends and associates that make you better.  This can include mentor-like figures, but it’s probably not going to look really official.
Rather than, “Find a mentor”, try something like this:

  • Build social capital with everyone (you don’t know who will end up becoming close, and it makes you better to have a generous spirit)
  • Find a lot of great people doing interesting stuff and be around them (regardless of their age or status)
  • For hard to access people, create a clear value proposition that gives them reason to welcome you in to their network (there are a lot of ways to do this)
  • Be protective of who you spend the most time with (you might have to stop hanging out with old friends if they bring you down, or move away from your home town)
  • Be interested in everyone (not in a phony way)

Frankenmentor > mentor

In other words, construct the ideal mentor out of bits and pieces of several people and experiences.  You want a Frankenstein mentor.  Call it a tribe, a network, a mastermind group, or don’t call it anything at all.  But you will absolutely achieve more if you identify great people to be around and learn from – people who are better than you in some way – find ways to make it worth their time to be around you, create value, watch them, listen to them, emulate where it makes sense, ask questions, pass on what you learn.  There might be one or two dominant figures at any given time, but don’t try too hard to find your perfect Morpheus and take instruction.

Freedom > mentorship

Guard your time and your freedom.  Self-appointed mentors might (often with the best intentions) be too ready to tell you what to do, play games, and try to steer or manipulate you.  Just because someone is older, smarter, or richer doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or ignore their advice.  You’ll have to at least some of the time.
To be who you want to be and achieve your goals you will need good people around you.  You will need mentorship, but maybe not in any formal way and probably not in the form of a single mentor.