I’ve joked that if I wrote a book, it would be about helping people navigate their 20s. My 20s started off with graduating college, starting my career, living on my own for the first time, and naively expecting everything would fall into place like a Hallmark movie. What I didn’t realize and frankly wasn’t prepared for, was that for the first time in my life, I didn’t have any built-in structure. I had to learn to navigate life in a new way on my own. Friendships rapidly changed as people moved away, got married, or just went their separate ways. I wasn’t sure if I was in the right job or the right city. Nothing felt right. I was trying to find my place and purpose.
For the first time in my life, I. Just. Felt. Stuck.
My high school and college days were consumed with being part of organizations. I was pretty much an overachiever; I was awarded “Most Involved” in my sorority. Then, to my shock, I went from having so much ambition and meaning in my life to feeling like I was just going through the motions.
My days were filled with counting down the hours of the workdays until the weekend. The weekends were filled with the same bars and unmet expectations over and over. I knew I needed out of this hamster wheel funk. I had to find something that would break the cycle.
Faith was always important to me, and I had been feeling this nudge to make it more of a priority. I got involved in a group for young adults at a church in town, and it wasn’t too long before I was taking on some new leadership roles (remember, overachiever). All of the leaders in this organization were matched with mentors to invest in us as we were building into other people. As a newer leader, I had heard of my peers’ experiences and was thrilled because, finally, I was getting what felt like the key to getting unstuck—a person who had been there and could guide me.
Some of my most meaningful experiences had been with a mentor or a “big sister” in the organizations I had been in. It was an embedded part of joining. That person showed me the ropes as I was getting started, was there for my questions, had a listening ear when things weren’t going well, and could help me see where I could go next. Having someone guide me through my first frat party and help me understand the unwritten rules of sorority etiquette saved me from making some rookie mistakes early on.
While it made total sense to have that support in my extracurricular activities, it never occurred to me that I could have a mentor for my life.
Wasn’t I supposed to have it all figured out on my own by now? How do I ask someone to fill that role in a non-awkward way?
I was “matched” with a mentor I had never met before, the result of my go-with-the-flow, let-fate-do-its-thing mentality. We tried it out for a while, and while she was a phenomenal example to follow, I was not specific upfront with what I was looking for. Some things were missing. When I told the young adults’ leader what I was hoping to get out of having a mentor, a few other names came up, but none of them could take on someone new. I was learning that like most things that can have a significant impact on you, the right person wasn’t actually that easy to find. As we went back and forth, the leader told me that she thought she was supposed to lead me. Bingo. We had similar passions, were already connected through our group, and she was a leader that I wanted to look more like. It was a no-brainer.
In our first meeting, she told me her story over some Chipotle, and we talked about the things I was looking to learn from her. And then we were off. She changed my trajectory in my mid-20s. She was someone who celebrated my talents and skills, gave me a new vision for where I could go, but also pointed out some blind spots that were hurting me and my long-term dreams. We’ve had many, many more conversations over burrito bowls, and are still in a relationship six years later. Because of my relationship with her, I’ve tried leading new things, gone on adventures on the other side of the world, took on a new career, and have gotten to know and experience God in a way I never had before. Now I have other women who also lead me personally and professionally. One recently said to me, “We say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise a leader.” Learning from others’ experiences and wisdom helps me to be the best version of me.
Life is hard, especially when you’re trying to establish a life for yourself, but it doesn’t stop there. Throw marriage, kids, career change, a mid-life crisis in the mix, there’s only more of a need to get more people on your team. Here are some tips I’ve found that are helpful in finding someone who can walk alongside you as you’re figuring it out.
Get in the game. It’s not likely that someone is going to show up at your front door. Get involved in something to meet people. Maybe it’s volunteering, a club where you work, or a group at your church, like in my story. It will require your time and maybe some money, but it’s worth it.
Look around. Ask. And stay persistent. A mentor doesn’t have to be perfect (and, spoiler alert, they aren’t). But when you’re around people, start looking for who has what you’re looking for. Leadership skills? A healthy marriage? Smarts for managing finances? Deeper faith? Then ask them to talk. They might not have considered themselves a mentor or known you were looking for one. Be direct and clear on what you’re looking for so you’re both on the same page. Tip: If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you should actually start there. What are the pain points in your life? Where do you feel stuck? Where do you want to go?
Make it easy for them to say yes. That’s a nice way of saying check your attitude. If you expect them to solve all of your problems or you actually don’t want your life to change, it’s not going to work. Be open and teachable. Accommodate their schedule. Yes, even if that means you have to adjust yours. Find a way to make their life easier, whether it’s babysitting their kids, offering your skills on a project they’re leading, or just bringing the occasional six-pack as a thank you. And if they say no, dust yourself off and keep trying.
Make the investment in yourself. Don’t settle for going through the motions until you wake up one day wondering what happened to your life. Become the person you were meant to be by building your support structure now. It’s not too late. It takes intention and effort, but you and your future are worth it.
What has your experience been with mentors? What hopes or fears do you have about the idea of letting someone lead you to a new place?
Where do you feel stuck right now? Look across the categories of your life, and consider the pain points or places of apathy.
The best person to follow is someone who is living a life you admire. They won’t have it altogether, but they are further ahead in at least one area that lines up with an area you want to grow. Think of a few people, and make the ask.
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