It’s easy to feel lost at sea - or stranded on an island speaking only to a deflated volleyball - when you’re a creative. We are in an industry that is highly competitive, with no real set path laid out for success, and Instagram there to constantly make us feel like we’re not good enough.
How many times have you wished “Gosh, if only there was someone I could talk to who has been through this before!”
This is when having a mentor is crucial. Having someone to look up to and a solid resource can be the boon to your growth and development as a creative.
But how does one find a mentor?
And what if you want to be someone’s mentor?
At the first Rise & Design of 2019, we looked at mentorship from both angles and discovered what type of deodorant everyone wears. Confused? Should’ve been there….
OMFG this blog post is too long:
Why we need mentors
We all want to grow, to be happy, to do good, to be a better person and be a better professional.
But we’re at different skills levels and in slightly different professions than literally everyone else.
This is the challenge of being in the creative field. Sure, there are piles upon piles of graphic designers, mountains of illustrators, rivers of writers, and fields of videographers and...I’m running out of topographical references but you’re getting the idea…
Just like every piece of sand on the beach is different, so is every creative. Not one of us does the same thing or are even on the same path. There is no set path for our industry and it makes ‘growth’ feel even more nebulous.
What to do next?
Do you go out on your own as a freelancer?
Do you start offering a new service?
What do you charge?
How do you find more clients?
Having someone to directly ask these questions - and that isn’t being interviewed on a podcast or in chapter 4 of a book that’s already outdated as soon as it’s published - is critical.
We need mentors to push us to grow and look at problems differently.
Now we just need to find them.
“Um, will you, um, please be my mentor? Please?”
One of the things we chatted about most was how to find a mentor. Countless of us were ready to be pushed to the next level, whatever that means. We wanted guidance and a person we could rely on. But who? And how to ask?
Some things to think about when you are looking for a mentor-
Know what you want. Have a list of asks ready to send to the potential mentor right off the bat. This will help set expectations and decrease work for the mentor. You want to make it as easy for them as possible.
Consider mentors outside of your own profession: maybe a business development expert is what you need, or a financial advisor, or a public official. Be creative in your net casting. Working with someone outside your fields could be exactly the different perspective you need to grow.
There were a couple of examples of how you can ask someone to be your mentor.
Option one: Super formal
If you know of someone that each time you see them or hear them speak you go “Damn, I wish I could pick their brain,” ask them formally.
Write them an email or send them a message that says something along the lines of:
Hello Amazing Person,
I have seen you speak and have been admiring your work for a while now. I am an aspiring roller skate dancer who, like you, am looking to make my career breaking it down on the skating rink. Would you be willing to be my mentor? I would be happy to pay you for your time if you would like, as time with you would be invaluable to me!
The best roller skater on my block
Ok clearly this isn’t the best script but you get the idea. We’ll get into some more nuts and bolts in the next section of what exactly to ask for.
Option two: Organic
Perhaps there is someone in the community that you casually run into at events and meetups and you eventually strike up the courage to ask them to coffee.
You hit it off and develop a sort of mutual relationship of having coffee once a month. If you want to formalize it, ask them! Make sure you are being considerate of their time and thank them, profusely.
The nuts and bolts of mentorship
Ok, now that you’ve asked someone to be your mentor, how does it work?
When you are formalizing your relationship, consider actually paying them for their time, and don’t freak out if they ask for that.
Or do what Ben did and have a trade. Ben helped his mentor be a total boss at some video game called PUBG.
Think about what you have to offer - and ask if they want it!
You have to think of mentoring like dating. It is a constant give and take, always seeking to find balance.
Something that came up over and over and over and over again as it is on you, the mentee, to set agendas. The mentor is doing you a favor, offering their time and expertise. You need to be the one who preps them a few days ahead of time with questions about what you’re currently struggling with, documents that you would like their feedback on, and confirm that the meeting time is still good.
You need to do the work. And honor the mentor’s time by giving them a chance to do some research if they need to.
Not only is this super-de-duper respectful, but it also maximizes the time you get to spend with your guide.
Set boundaries within the mentorship. What do you need from them? Do you need creative guidance, business development, coaching, or emotional support? Have very clear boundaries so no one feels taken advantage of or guilty for asking for something.
Leveling up with mentoring
The biggest most important-ist thing about mentoring is boundary setting. It is a delicate relationship and you need to understand where you are at, whether as the mentee or mentor.
It might be easiest to think of mentorship in three levels.
Level One: Junior mentorship - This person is at a level just below you. You are the acting mentor but can still learn a lot from the mentee’s journey. This is more organic so be respectful of everyone’s time.
Level Two: Peer mentorship - This person is your peer and you can both grow together. Start developing a structure to your time, because time is valuable.
Level Three: Senior mentorship - This person is probably multiple levels up from you and it needs to be more formal, either paid or with a very set structure.
A different way to view mentorship
But mentorships don’t have to be so damn formal, Anna!
A lot of us talked about how you can find mentorship within a community or a friendship. Heck, the Rise & Design community has been my mentor since day one of doing this whole freelance thing.
Mentoring within a friendship can at times be even more fulfilling. The atmosphere is, in general, more relaxed and there isn’t as much pressure to DO MORE THINGS.
But please, be wary. Don’t take advantage of your friendships, and make sure they are actually friendships, not just relationships that you think are friendships but in actuality are leaching from.
But seriously, not to sound like a broken record, but mentorships within a community can be beautiful and incredibly rewarding but be sure to give back to it. You don’t want to squash that beautiful relationship!
But Anna, what about even MORE ways to think about mentorship??
Well, Anna, great question.
You can find mentorship through:
Social media - lurk or be active on social media groups relevant to your offering. For example, I am in a copywriting Facebook group and get tons of insight on client management, proposals, and project scoping.
Micro-mentorship - Maybe there is someone you really admire and you just have one question for them. Ask it! And then let it be done, unless you both want to grow that relationship further.
Internships - A very formal way of mentorship, this is your chance to learn from a total boss or be an inspiration to an aspiring creative.
Materials- Listen to inspiring podcasts like Andy’s or read books like the one Danielle is forever name dropping. See in the resource section below.
I want to be someone’s mentor!
Great! That’s awesome! We need you!
Now - how do you find mentees?
You can offer a (paid) internship at your office or agency to bring new people in.
You can help out at portfolio review sessions.
You can be a resource for local art programs and schools for students to reach out to.
You can do an AMA (ask me anything) day on social media and open up the floor to your followers.
You can be the space maker. How can you connect your already vibrant network (and yes, you have one, you just have to really look at it) and bring a great group of people together?
You can level up from space maker and make an accountability group. Get people together that are at a similar level to yourself and learn from each other. You could even end up RULING THE WORLD. Ok, oversell, but seriously, you could get massive shit done.
Another excuse to use "mentor" in a header
This was just for Anna’s amusement.
Next slide, please.