It Takes Mentors to Make Commencement Dreams Come True: Why Millennials Need Mentors

May 27, 2015

The keys to the doors that you need open are in other peoples’ pockets. It’s up to you to build the relationships needed to open the doors.
– Michael Roderick

Before graduating from college, Ashley Stahl had a team of mentors to help coach and guide her career. She dreamed big and wanted nothing less than to land her dream job straight out of college. That millennial dream came true when she walked into the U.S. Pentagon for her dream job in foreign affairs.

Long before crossing the commencement stage to get her degree, Ashley did something many millennials don’t know to do. She built up her team of mentors and asked for advice whenever possible.

Instead of waiting to start her career after graduation like many students do, Ashley began her career with one cup of coffee and a conversation to build up her network.

One particular mentor really helped Ashley out. A colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces offered advice to Ashley and introduced her to key people who were able to help Ashley land her dream job.

Ashley left her career in foreign affairs after the puffy white clouds of her dream job dissipated. She began feeling like a cog in a bureaucratic engine, and has continue to rely on mentorship and coaching to break career barriers and rise above plateaus. She’s gone on to start up a successful coaching business, writes for Forbes, and has spoken on stage at TED.

Asking a mentor for help and networking, however, seems to be something many millennials are uncomfortable doing, especially if they come from the struggling working class.

A study by Jessica McCrory Calarco found that whether or not a student asks for help depends on his/her background. Working class students tend to ask for help far less than middle-class students.

This behavior can continue into adulthood when some struggling mid-career professionals ask for help and others shy away from it.

Like Ashley discovered early on in college, one person’s extraordinary success has an iceberg effect: what you see as the tip of success has a mountain of mentors underneath it.

The truth is… if you want to dream big and live an extraordinary life, you’re going to need to open up and ask for help. And that can be incredibly awkward at first. But once you get used to it, you’ll see how other people hold the keys to the doors you need open, and they are often more than happy to help out.

Even if you’ve graduated from college, it’s never too late to start networking and build your team of mentors.

After all, even Steve Jobs needed the engineering brain of Steve Wozniak, the design eye of Jony Ive, and, of course, the spiritual guidance of Kobun Chino Otagawa.

Sir Richard Branson credits a lot of his success to Sir Freddie Laker.

Blake Mycoskie says he could never have made TOMS without his mother who influenced him to look at failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Millennials today have a unique opportunity to find mentorship in their life, even if they’re as introverted as Milton from Office Space.

Here are two types of mentors to kickstart the mentorship engine, no matter whether you’re an extrovert or introvert.

The Extrovert’s In-Person Mentor

It all starts with a cup of coffee or a meal. That’s why you’ll often hear entrepreneurs say to never eat a meal alone.

Attending a conference, a local meet-up, or an organization in your field of interest will introduce you to the right people to start talking to. Yes, networking can be just as awkward as a botched proposal; however, here’s the first tip: listen more than you speak, and have an authentic interest in helping the people you meet.

Learn the person’s story and then share your story in all its honesty. If you’re lost and searching, that’s okay. We’ve all been there.

(Read Adam Grant’s Give and Take if you want more research on how being a giver is way better than being a taker.)

Follow up with those you’ve met via email, and ask him/her if they’d like to meet up for coffee. Just set a date and time. Stick to around noon to early afternoon for the meeting to avoid coming off a bit too flirtatious.

When you ask for advice, be open and honest. Tell the person what you admire about their work and your dreams for your career. He/She will appreciate the compliment, and likely offer you some stellar advice. It’s up to you where to take it from there.

Having a mentor doesn’t mean having one mentor. Mark J. Carter suggests a more organic approach to mentorship. He suggests not to stick to one mentor, but to have one conversation then ask to get introduced to other people who can more specifically help you out. Some of the best mentor sessions can come from coffee-hopping and having a conversation with a new mentor each time.

Of course, some people do have one mentor for a certain length of time (i.e. 6 months to a year) and they set up bi-weekly or monthly meetings. Just always look for ways you can help your mentor too.

Real mentorship is free. It can’t be bought or sold. It’s about building a relationship, not about a monetary transaction. Mentorship that costs money is coaching, and that’s fine too; but, it’s not mentoring.

The Introvert’s Virtual Mentor

The Internet spawned an information age that would make Gutenberg salivate with jealousy. Information can be spread with a click of a button or a whimsical Youtube video. That means that a person can get his/her word out just as easily as someone else could learn something new.

For starters, a kid growing up on welfare could listen in on a lecture at Harvard, Yale or Stanford if he wanted to (i.e. Coursera, Udacity). That’s incredible!

Having a virtual mentor is a lot like cruising the Internet and Facebook to “research” information on your crush. Be honest… You know you’ve done it.

Find a role model you idolize. Read what they say on Twitter, post on Facebook and Instagram, and, of course — read their blog, listen to their podcast, or watch their Youtube videos. Peruse a role model’s Linkedin page to see what school and training they have. Their story can help you connect the dots on your own journey.

Highly successful people will almost always have a solid online presence. Even if they are not producing content, they are more than likely being interviewed and written about by other people.

Without ever meeting up with a virtual mentor, you can learn how your role model got to where they are now, and what keeps them going.

Now more than ever before, millennials have the opportunity to break down socioeconomic barriers and skip the corporate ladder. For the dreamers out there, there’s little excuse to not make a dream come true. It starts with one cup of a coffee and a conversation. The keys to the doors that open up your dream may just be in a mentor’s pocket. All they’re waiting for is for you to ask for help.

The Traveling Cup © 2016