On the importance of having a mentor – five bits of advice from my life’s mentors

tao5-imageA great mentor can help you leap forward in all aspects of life, being assured – with good advice – that your chosen direction is the right one.

What is a mentor? For me, it is someone I can learn from, someone who gives me sensational advice from a position of wisdom; someone who I can be honest with, and someone who is concerned about my personal development, not just career development. I’m a firm believer that career development stems from being a more rounded, balanced individual.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few mentors since moving to Hong Kong, in work, in life and in sport. Here are some of the helpful bits of advice I’ve received along the way.

1. YOU’RE BORING, GET A HOBBY

During my first meeting with my first ever mentor, Joanne, I recall talking about my woes of being a young corporate lawyer, and my aspiration to “get out of the rat race”.

Joanne’s advice? “You’re boring.” She was right. My life had a single focus: work. On the sides I was fitting in a dysfunctional social life through a hazy, inebriated lens, and had become unhealthy and unmotivated. She suggested I get a hobby, a passion, anything. I needed something outside of work. I needed conversation. I needed an interest. That bit of advice set me on the pursuit of awesome –  boxing, running, new charity ventures and ultimately a change in career. That bit of advice has also helped me once I’ve been on my path, to make sure I don’t just run all the time, write or the time, or do any one thing all the time – variety is the spice of life, after all.

Do you have a single, blinding, all-consuming focus in life that is making you boring? Is there something you’re interested that you’ve been meaning to start or do? Maybe it’s time you started doing it.

2. THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING FRIENDS

Joanne’s second bit of wonderful advice was the importance of having friends. True friends. “Hong Kong can be a tough, lonely place, and you need people who you can truly trust and have your back,” she explained, in her matter-of-fact and insanely likeable tone.

In a Facebook world, it’s easy to think we have lots of “friends”. But who can you truly count on? I’ve since taken steps to really evaluate my friendships and try to surround myself with incredible people who add to me and my life, in a mutually beneficial way. If you don’t have the support you need, maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at your friends list. Make the time to invest in the people you can count on, not the people who simply like your posts.

3. HAVE CONFIDENCE

Sounds simple enough, but it was my writing mentor Vic that really forced me to realise that I wasn’t being confident in my writing. I’ve always been a firm believer in “faking it ’til you make it” – that mentality has given me the boost to take on some seriously scary and seemingly unachievable goals –  but sooner or later you need to have the confidence to back up that “leap of faith”.

Fearlessness is a good approach when starting things, but ultimately every endeavour needs to be fuelled by confidence – and the tools that beget confidence. Confidence, for me, has been achieved through measurable improvement. I chose Vic as my mentor, an esteemed writer and seasoned editor, as someone I could trust for constructive criticism to help me improve. A mentor who’s only going to pander to your ego won’t truly help; it’ll be one who kindly points out your shortcomings, and helps you to find the tools to improve.

4. IF YOU WANT TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY, DRINK MORE COFFEE

Another Joanne-ism – “Meet my friend for coffee!” When I was looking for a career change, I met so many people for advice over cups of coffee. Success does not following a linear path. If you’re looking to do something different – whether it’s a career, new sport or new venture – don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in that field for advice. And don’t be afraid to ask them for a recommendation of someone else you can talk to. I’ve met entrepreneurs, CEOs, Olympic athletes and world champions for coffee. By remaining ever humble and curious, it’s amazing what you can learn, and what path a brief encounter can set you on.

5. STAY GENUINE

This little gem has come from a running “mentor” of sorts for me, and strangely her advice wasn’t so much about running as it was about life. Stay genuine. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Seek advice from good counsel, then act with conviction. If you don’t know what you stand for, you will fall for anything. Be careful who you’re trying to please, because ultimately if your actions don’t serve you –  if your actions are not consistent with your morals, your goals and your values – you’re not going anywhere, in your career or in life.

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