How to Find a Mentor Anywhere
Nada Alic / WNW Member
I have been involved in many relationships in my life, from daughter and girlfriend to manager who just wants to be your friend. But the one relationship I’ve never had the chance to experience is that of the mentee and mentor. Mentorship has always had a certain mystique to it; like how do you find a mentor? How do you negotiate their level of involvement in your life? Are they more of a therapist, or is it a less consistent arrangement, limited to times of crisis and big life decisions? Does the mentor know they’re being identified as “my mentor” to the mentee’s friends or colleagues? And does that make them feel old? Somehow, an imposter? Do you ever quit being a mentor or is it really more symbolic, like a godfather? Could you become your own mentor once you reach a certain age?
These questions might indicate why I have yet to find a mentor, because they can tell I’m desperate for one. People of great wisdom and conviction know: I’m not ready for it. This has yet to deter me from seeking out mentorship from friends, motivational speakers, new age philosophies, and books. No one has outwardly consented to mentoring me, but I find myself privately cataloguing their advice and experiences so that I can apply it to my own life. Picture myself as a duckling, imprinting myself onto everyone I meet in hopes of finding my real mom.
There are certain creatives who can happily do their own thing without permission from others. It is a kind of confidence that feels exotic to me, dangerous even. These types of creatives are so attuned to their personal truths that they don’t need interference from others. Of course this is a worthy aspiration, but many of us still need someone to guide us through this nebulous world of self-directed creative work. Without the help of others, we struggle to see ourselves clearly and need validation and feedback to nudge us towards the finish line. I am obsessed with getting advice from others; even if it’s bad, I still want to know what other people would do in my situation. Whether it’s negotiating a salary or how to find inspiration and stay motivated, people who give advice tend to know what they’re talking about or at least appear as if they do, which is honestly good enough for me. It reassures me to know that someone is rooting for me, even if that just means they’re mostly talking about themselves.
Of course, finding an individual mentor, preferably someone with frizzy, greyish hair who recounts fables and cautionary tales of their youth, is the ideal. I wanted this so badly that I thought about starting an app for mentors, a mentor Tinder if you will (please don’t steal this idea) but understood how quickly this would veer from its original intention. So in lieu of finding The One, I have come up with the many places and people in your life that can provide you with mentorship (whether they agree to it or not.)
Your More Successful Friends
Friends are the low-hanging fruit of mentorship. You see them all the time, you like who they are, and hopefully you feel like you can open up about everything. Exploit this! Cross the boundaries of friendship into the No Man’s Land of friend-therapist. You’re already hanging out with them, why not ask them if they thought their MFA was worth it or if they can connect you with that investor they spoke on a panel with last week. Remember to deliver it in the form of a genuine curiosity for how they’re doing. Use devices like compliments to get them talking, tell them how much you admire and respect them (because it’s true!), and then hone in on the specifics. Successful friends are powerful allies, not just for their connections but because they’re expansive. They’ve been through it before and they will let you use their passwords to software programs if you ask them. Being around people who are living the life you want to live is empowering. You get to be a friend and an apprentice at the same time. You get to believe that your own goals are achievable because your peers are living it. The key to this is to maintain the friendship without getting too weird or needy about work stuff. Play it cool and wait for their secrets of success to be revealed.
Otherwise known as successful people that you don’t know but follow online. These types of mentors are great if you don’t want to contribute anything to the relationship and you just let your mirror neurons do the rest. I’m a believer in osmosis, which is why my Instagram feed is mostly populated with successful writers I’ve never met. In my scroll-induced hypnotic state, I am receiving inspirational messages from them and storing them in my subconscious for later. What does Maggie Nelson eat for lunch? Where does Eileen Myles vacation? If I study their patterns of behaviour enough, then maybe I can learn to embody them within my own life. There’s also an entirely other category of inspirational influencers who literally exist to mentor strangers. These people post quotes online and give you rapid fire advice on how to change your life on your lunch hour. This type of mentorship is convenient when you can’t be bothered to know someone, but instead blindly put your faith in their legitimacy via their millions of followers. There’s a subcategory of these influencers who are dead but continue to mentor us from beyond the grave via famous quotes they once said. A great account for this is Nitch, who posts inspiring quotes from people like Frida Khalo, Nina Simone, and Bukowski. Every time I read it I think: I will remember this forever, then immediately forget what I read.
Completely Random Strangers
In the school of life, the world is your education. (Is that a terrible fortune cookie line?) Look around you and try to notice everything. There are people going about their business, walking around, living their own complex narratives. These people can be mentors too. Watch an old man stop and smell a flower, or a child running freely through an open field. From a Truman Show-esque perspective, you can believe that these people were placed there just for you. To remind you to slow down and enjoy the simple things. Or that beauty is everywhere. Or that you are loved, even if you can’t see it. Or if you’re heartbroken, you’re loved in a bigger, more cosmic way. In the rare instance that one of these strangers breaks the law, notice that too, then kindly report it to the authorities.
Books are filled with people telling you what to do. Almost all books are selling you on someone’s idea of how to live a life. What a relief! I remember weeping over the pages of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert - a meditation on the more magical aspects of the creative process. I also remember truly seeing myself for the first time as a creative person with the help of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. More recently, I read How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, a manifesto of resistance to the attention economy wherein I swiftly deleted my Facebook account. Self-help books are abundant, whether you’re looking to optimize or heal or accept yourself as who you are, right now; there is a book for that. Literary mentorship is not just limited to self-help, but to fiction as well. So many books have inspired new ways of thinking for me, and continue to do so every time I revisit a book that’s made a profound impact on me. The downside of being mentored by books is that reading can be tedious, so many left-to-right eye movements, so many thin pages! No pictures! Hard to transport! It requires a level of attention and solitude many of us aren’t able to give. Also, much like quotes, I often forget large swaths of text and the advice can be too generalized. But at the very least, they look really nice on a bookshelf.
My first encounter with mentorship was not with an actual person but a vast library of online lectures that I’ve watched enough times to constitute the relationship I have with these speakers as real and valid. If I could, I’d put them all down as my emergency contact. In the early days it was TED talks, then they became more philosophical: old recordings of Alan Watts, Ram Dass, Krishnamurti leading up to present day where I found Tony Robbins and through him an entire universe of motivational speakers. I’m well aware that the Tony Robbins documentary, I Am Not Your Guru specifically distinguishes him from the classic mentor role but c’mon Tony, you’re not fooling anyone. You are our guru, and so is Brene Brown, and Esther Perel and Malala and Oprah. Inspiring talks are easy, generally under 10 minutes and available at any time. Now, whenever I’m feeling down, I’ll instead find out how to cultivate unstoppable confidence, develop new habits, or remind myself that attitude is everything.
Of course, when you’ve alienated everyone and exhausted all other options, there is always yourself. You’ve always been there through it all so, in a way, you’re an expert. Mentoring yourself requires patience, so don’t be too hard on yourself if at first the voice in your head validates all of your worst fears. It will do that. Let it ramble and try not to pay too much attention. Once it’s said everything it needs to, you might find that there was a part of you watching the whole thing unfold like a terrible movie. That’s you. Or as the more spiritually-inclined might say, that is your consciousness. It’s that unshakeable part of you that can withstand anything. You might find that that part of you has some valuable advice to give you, often along the lines of “you got this.” For some, it’s more of a gut feeling, that instinct that knows exactly what to do in each moment. Reacquaint yourself with that part of you. It is your personal truth, your inner compass, and it is by far the cheapest and most effective way to learn and grow. (Pro tip: meditation is a great first step to getting there.)
Nada Alic is a Los Angeles-based editor, writer and content strategist with 9 years of professional experience. Currently, she's working on a collection of fiction. Previously, Nada was the Editorial Director for e-comm arts platform Society6. Before that, she was agency-side, managing editorial for Gap Inc. properties. She also built Etsy's first Canadian HQ, and has had work featured in VICE, Nasty Gal, Ephemera Mag, Time Out LA, Cool Hunting, and People of Print.
Header Illustration by WNW Member Rachel Denti