We could all use a little help in our perpetual quest to live our best lives. Whether you want to excel in your career, to be a better mother, to be a better cook, a stronger athlete or a smarter human, you can’t do it alone—so how to find a mentor? Mentors can help you by offering guidance, advice, tips, and above all, experience so that you don’t have to navigate the road to success alone. According to Wall Street Journal columnist Veronica Dagher, mentors are valuable because “they can serve as a sounding board for ideas and give more objective advice than, say, a close friend or family member. A mentor also can help an adviser stick to and reach specific goals.”
Think about it; there are certain questions you wouldn’t ask your husband, and certain honest comments you might not feel comfortable sharing with a friend. You need an unbiased party who will serve as a guide, a confidant and a supporter. But how do you find such a mentor? As far as we know, there aren’t exactly matching apps to set you up with a career advisor or a motivational coach. The truth is, all you need to do is look around you to find someone capable of mentoring you. If you want to learn some tricks in the kitchen, think of a friend or chef you admire (and love to dine with). If we’re talking about a career mentor, look for someone in your field who is accomplished in an area where you want to grow. When it comes to thinking about how to find a mentor, remember: you don’t need a classified ad or a professional matchmaker—you just need an open mind and a goal.
Read Related: Thank Your Mentor on National Mentoring Month
As WSJ reports, Karol Ward, a New York psychotherapist explains that you need to be very straightforward about your goals if you want to find an effective mentor. She argues that “the clearer they are in their needs, the greater success they will have in finding the right mentor.”
As far as which qualities to look for in a mentor, look for someone who has been in your shoes. That doesn’t mean they need to have your same exact background or story, but they certainly need to have some experience (and ideally some success stories) in the area you are looking to improve. Beyond that, your mentor should inspire you. You should admire who they are and you should want to learn from them so that you too can achieve such success. We’re not talking about admiration the way you see a model and wish you had her abs or you see an Olympic athlete and you wish you could perform as well as them. Find a mentor who motivates you in a realistic way. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, and there is a creative writing professor who can help you hone your skills and find your voice. Or if you want to get in shape, find a fitness expert or trainer who can get you moving and make it fun, so that you stick to your new routine.
Remember, a good mentor does not need to be perfect; they just need to complement you, push you, inspire you and make you feel like you have a support system and partner in your efforts. Sometimes a mentor isn’t an expert, but another individual going through the same struggles as you. You can learn from each other and help one another as you collectively find solutions that make you better at your job. That goes for any kind of job, whether you are trying to make the best chocolate chip cookies or you’re writing a memoir or you’re training for a marathon.
Make sure that the mentor you choose values learning, education and is willing to share what they know and invest their time into your growth. And a big part of making sure your mentor can actually teach you what they know is ensuring they are good at communicating their thoughts and opinions in a constructive way (and they’re willing to take the time to share those opinions). As The Washington Post says, according to Joyce E. A. Russell, the vice dean at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program, you want a mentor who will “be honest with you, sharing their thoughts about your strengths and ways you can improve.”
Lastly, you should feel comfortable with any mentor you choose. If you can’t ask them the hard questions, and you can’t be honest when they ask you about tough topics, then you will never maximize your relationship. Above all, give the mentorship process a chance and stick with it. According to Jason Dorsey, bestselling author of Y-Size Your Business, “good coaches will challenge you. That’s their job! You’re probably not going to grow until you get uncomfortable.”