Success can be elusive. The building blocks of success are subtle and nuanced. For those who have made it big, the real reasons for their success are rarely the things they remember and write about.

This is where mentors come in.

In our quest for growth, progress, and success, we have this latent desire for someone who will take us under their wing and co-pilot our journey from the mailroom to the corner office. Or, more realistically, we imagine a relationship with a mentor who meets with us once or twice a month over a long period of time and imparts wisdom like a college professor working through a syllabus.

It doesn’t work that way. We are the pilots and navigators of our own careers. 

The good news is that there are plenty of people out there willing to help us along our path if we but know what to ask for. To find a mentor, start by developing a self awareness of what you want to learn next. This is the key. You must have a sense of what you are ready for and what you want to learn.

Then look for people who can help you learn these things. They are all around you. When you find them, ask them for 30 minutes of their time and conduct your version of an informational interview. Ask them questions that get at the subtle and nuanced elements of their success. How did they navigate? What did they do to be successful in this company, in this industry, in this market, in this business? Who do I need to know to be successful — and what do I need to do be ready to meet them?

Wrap up with the granddaddy of all mentor questions: “What would you do if you were in my situation?”

And then keep in touch. Schedule ongoing meetings with this mentor as long as they continue to be helpful. Be sure to reciprocate in any way that you can. You know people and things that could help them be successful as well. Success is a team sport. We all get to play.

Next Steps

Originally published February 28, 2014. Updated June 4, 2020.

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