4 Most Common Mentors You’ll Have In Your Career

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This post is in partnership with Forté Foundation. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and experiences are my own.

TRUTH: For years, I thought mentors were this magical unicorn that we're told to go out and get as soon as we enter the workforce, but truthfully, where TF are they?! After struggling for years to find a mentor, I thought there was something wrong with me since I couldn't find one. I had no idea organizations like Forté Foundation existed to support early career women as they navigate their ever-winding career paths. But over time, I broadened definition of mentorship and realized that I’d had mentors all along – they just didn’t fit the traditional mold. Funny enough, I recently came across this article about the accidental mentor by Forté executive director Elissa Sangster, which echoes my revelations.

What is a mentor?

I used to think a mentor was someone you met with once a week or once a month for coffee. A person who helped you reach all of your goals while keeping you grounded through the highs and lows of your career. But today I realize that mentors don't come in pristine, cookie cutter packages. A mentor isn't someone you necessarily meet with regularly (or even at all). Instead, it's someone who has more experience then you. A mentor helps you grow and evolve. It's someone who has helped to expand your viewpoint of what is possible and perhaps shown you a path that you didn't see before. You can have a direct relationship with your mentor, but you don’t have to:sometimes an indirect relationship can provide the support you need.

The Direct Mentor

The traditional view of a mentor. Someone you know personally, who you meet with somewhat regularly, and who helps with your career.

I was really lucky during my second internship for my master's degree to have a supervisor who fit the traditional definition of a mentor. While we worked at the same company, she also had her private practice and consulting clients outside to keep her busy. I met with her every week to refine my skills as a budding counselor. She taught me two really valuable lessons:how to navigate office politics, and how to diversifying my future revenue streams before I even really had my first one nailed down.

She always cheered me on, supported me, and continued to refer me clients and business for as long as I stayed in that industry. She invited me to networking events and trainings to make sure I was always ahead of the curve for career advancement. The craziest thing about this relationship though, aside from it literally being the perfect embodiment of the ideal mentor, is that I had NO idea she was a mentor of mine until years later! Since I was so green in my career I thought she was just a really nice supervisor and that's what I could expect from everyone going forward ?. She did more for my new career than I can even say and taught me early on to trust my instincts in making big career moves while going after what I want.

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The Unlikely Mentor

A person you know personally, who seems like more of a headache than a help – only for you to realize how much you can actually learn from this painful/prickly relationship.

From my amazing mentor, I landed a new job with a new boss who I was convinced would be my actual “mentor.” She had the career I thought I wanted, complete with a fancy title and national speaking engagements. However just a couple of months into working for her, I realized how unhealthy she actually was. She was rude, condescending, and emotionally volatile. The breaking point for our relationship was after a slew of abusive and traumatic meetings, she cried in my arms about her countertransference issues with me (mind you she was my boss). Doesn't sound like much of a mentor, am I right?

The truth is, as traumatic as that experience was for me, it taught me SO much. You see, she did have more experience than me (truly the only thing a mentor must have). And she did help me evolve and grow both personally and professionally. I learned a ton about myself and my relationships by working with her for less than a year. She expanded my view of what was actually possible for my life and helped me realize what I actually wanted, and for that I'm grateful.

The Friend Mentor

The peer who is a few steps ahead of you and is willing to give advice and support.

After working for my unexpected mentor, I was at a loss. I knew I wanted a career that looked like the one my first direct mentor had, but I didn't know how to bypass the route my unlikely mentor had taken. That's when the friend mentor came in, or in my case my boyfriend at the time (now husband). He had his own business and taught me all about entrepreneurship, which came in handy when I found myself fired twice in a month and in need of a new career path. His experience with building a company made me realize that self-employment was a possibility, and his support made it possible for me turn my dream into a reality.

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The Indirect Mentor

A person you don't know directly, but who has a career you want and puts out enough content or information that you can learn from.

Working from home these last 4+ years, mentors have felt harder to come by. My first year in business for myself, I went into a local woman-owned company and asked the CEO to mentor me. She laughed in my face, which TBH made me a little less excited about mentorship for awhile. Being a solopreneur is lonely, and I really wanted to find people I could learn from. That’s when it finally hit me: there are mentors all around me thanks to the interwebs.

The possibilities are endless for any type of mentorship you're looking for: everything from Forté’s MBA Launch program, which is a valuable mentoring resource that supports women as they apply to business school, to Facebook groups for your interest, to webinars and email newsletters that highlight what the thought leaders in your industry are doing. I can listen to a podcast, read a blog, find a new book or watch a Youtube video to get some new ideas and find my next mentoring moment.

Do you have a mentor? Or an unlikely mentor story?! I'd love to hear in the comments!


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4 Most Common And Unlikely Mentors You'll Have In Your Career

  1. The Direct Mentor

  2. The Unlikely Mentor

  3. The Friend Mentor

  4. The Indirect Mentor