Tag Archives: Life Lessons

Stop trying to find a great mentor.  Do this instead to advance your career and life.

What’s your question?

I can tell within 2 seconds of asking that question whether our mentoring session will be of any use to me or the mentee.

“Find a mentor. Find a mentor!”

The mantra of those who give great advice on how to advance, improve, get anywhere in life. And it is great advice. Otherwise, why would the same advice be dispended over and over again on blog  after blog after article  after article ?

“Ladies, find a mentor who will help you know how to navigate being a women in the work place. “

“Entrepreneur, find someone who has walked before you and lived to tell the story.”

All wonderful advice but then what?

Imagine you meet the mentor of your dreams. (Bill Gates, Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, you make your own list) That person agrees to mentor you. You show up, all nervous for your session. You are warmly welcomed in, share personal anecdotes, your newly minted mentor looks at you and asks

“So what do you want to talk about?”

And then it dawns on you. You know less about being a mentee than the mentor knows about being a mentor. Because let’s be honest, you chose the mentor for their awesomeness in some area. Business, leadership, marriage, finances, whatever. You might have gotten lucky and accidentally chosen a mentor who has a history of mentoring. 

You know less about being a mentee than the mentor knows about being a mentor.

The odds are though that your mentor might not be an expert at mentoring. And you walk out of your mentoring sessions disappointed, with maybe a book to talk about together.  Three sessions later, you find yourself dreading the mentoring sessions and wondering why you asked in the first place. You begin to sense your mentor may have the same feeling.

How then should one approach a mentor, particularly someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience mentoring but is excellent in his or her field?

I’m sure the first year was pretty much a waste of their time.

For the last three years, I’ve been privileged to have a couple dozen young people sit in my office and ask for mentoring. I’m sure the first year was pretty much a waste of their time. Until I discovered this tool. I ask everyone to come with a question. The question can be about anything of interest to them. The question must be something they genuinely want to learn.

Our mentoring sessions now begin with “What’s your question?” I know we are in for a particularly dynamic session when the mentee shows up and pre-empts my introduction with “Ok, so here’s my question.”

If my mentee comes with a question I don’t have the answer to, I can hopefully refer them to books or articles to read. Walking out of my office without a reading list is pretty much impossible. Because I’m generally not the expert, but I can point you in the right direction.

By framing your mentoring experience about real, relevant questions that are of interest to the mentee, the mentor feels like they are truly adding value. The mentee in turn walks away more engaged.

What kind of questions should you ask a mentor?

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Ask specific questions.

    1. “Tell me about life” is too vague.
    2. “What steps did you take during the recession in 2008 to secure your assets?” Much better.
  2. Ask interesting questions

    1. “I’ve heard you say this a million times. Repeat that for me and explain it would you?” No, I’d rather not. If it’s in the public domain repeatedly, odds are I wont be adding anything new to your database by repeating myself. Rather ask
    2. “I’ve heard you talk about X. What haven’t you shared, either for time, or that you are still researching?“
  3. Ask questions above your learning level.

    1. “What would you do in my position?” is a question that will only get you information about being on the level you are at. A mentor hopefully operates at a higher “level” whatever that means to you.
    2. Ask questions that reflect thinking to the point where you no longer know the answers and need genuinely new thoughts, not opinions that confirm your thinking.
  4. Ask unexpected questions.

    1. “What do you think about the Facebook scandal?” Everyone is talking about that, the opinions are all over, the ground is burned over. This isn’t a place to spend your valuable mentoring time touching on. Rather…
    2. “I saw company Q has 2 CEOs. Have you run into this, and how do you make it work?”Leveraging the Mentor’s expertise will gain you the most benefit from the relationship.

      Oftentimes the key to finding a good mentor is being a prepared mentee.

Doing your homework as a mentee will show the mentor that you value the investment of time. Consider the profession of the mentor. Would you pay their hourly rate to have the same conversation?

Oftentimes the key to finding a good mentor is being a prepared mentee.

This is part 1 of MENTORING, a new series on Lifecartography.net

What questions would you bring to a mentoring session?

How to be popular: Life Lesson #27

The secret to popularity.

The first popular kid I remember from school was in 4th or 5th grade. From then on, the popularity contest ran full swing until graduation night, populating the hallways of highschool with “in” kids and everyone else, “cool” kids and everyone else. These were rarified airs to travel in, and being included was dizzying.  Why is it then that so many of the “popular kids” were actually quite unpopular with the rest of the world?

To credit my high school, the playing field and measuring sticks for popularity were not as delineated as in other fine institutions of social learning. Something about being in an international environment changed some of the rules.

In college, the game was still there. To be popular, you had to be attractive, confident, put together. But if popularity wasn’t your goal, you could just be you.

Somewhere in my 30ies, I achieved popularity. Not because I was suddenly the favorite of a whole ground of strangers I was forced to associate with because of the educational environment forced on me by my situation. Rather, I was popular because I knew a lot of people that I liked and who strangely enough, also seems to like me.

Once I learned that perfect hair, teeth and abs were history after high school, I started enjoying being me a lot more. And ALL my friends are popular. At least with me.

Life is not school. Life Lesson #26

Life is not school.

“Man, I got in trouble for that one.” A friend told me about something he was called onto the carpet for at work. Really? In trouble? Define that, will ya?

School, particularly the western model, begins around age 5 with kindergarden. For a minimum of the next 13 years, and often longer if college and post-grad are undertaken, we are graded on everything from attendance to attitude to academic aptitude. There’s a measuring stick. Don’t do it right, and you’ll get sent to the principle’s office, or head master, or dean, or whomever.

That mentality is carried over into adult life. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t being graded for most of what I did. Sure, there are performance reviews, sure there are promotions, but beyond that, most of life is not graded. Life is meant to be lived.

What makes a great dad? The scale and definition is as unique as the individual being parented. What makes a good husband, friend, employee?

In school, you don’t get graded on loyalty, or innovation, or character. You get graded on spitting back certain content, and perhaps at more advanced institutions, correctly discerning authorial intent, and discerning patterns. The fields are endless and so are the measuring sticks.

You’ll never be graded on a walk in the park, or enjoying a sunset, or standing in awe of seeing your first elephant in the wild, or holding your first child with tears flowing down your cheeks.

Life is not school. The most beautiful moments are rarely graded. They are lived.

Free Coffee is not a human right. Life Lessons #25 .

” The precedence of privilege tends to lead to the assumption and demand of right.”

This one comes from Mike McClaflin, Africa Regional Director, AGWM, former military officer and king of the short one line answer.

A few years ago, I heard Pastor Barnabas Mtokambali from Tanzania speaking about privilege.

“We bring pastors in from the village to the city to train them. They get used to 2 meals a day. They get used to public transport and they become spoiled.”

Two meals a day is spoiled? Public transport is spoiled?

Kind of redefines privilege doesn’t it?

Precedence: The first time you get free coffee at work, you are grateful. The first year you get a bonus, you’re over the moon. The first time dad lets you take the family car, you are grateful.

Privilege: Three months later, finances are tight, and coffee is suddenly a few pennies. Irate, aren’t cha? No bonus at the end of the year? There goes Christmas for the kids. You can’t drive the car until you pull your grades up? Who does he think he is!?

I am privileged. By virtue of my birth location, I can travel to most of the western world without a visa. To be brutally honest, my skin color opened lots of doors in Africa for me, even if they were occasionally opened with resentment.

Give someone privilege long enough and they come to view it as a right.

Three meals a day is the baseline standard for what we should expect. That expectation is in the basic charter for human rights, isn’t it? Or it the baseline “daily bread?”

Everything else is bonus.

Personal note: This sounds kind of preachy, and probably leaves you feeling like I’m being unrealistic, unfair. Perhaps. So I decided to try it out myself on myself.  In leading up to my 40th birthday, I went 40 days eating only one meal a day. I was amazed at how easy it was. The battle was mental, not physical. Food we need. How much is often culturally and convenience defined.

Learn to talk to a human. Life Lesson #24

Learn to talk. (credit to my older, wiser brother, Stephen Porter, on the original idea here).

I speak 6 languages. Not fluently, and I have an accent in most of them. Swahili was the most recent one I learned and what a fun, challenging experience. My sixth language though? Digital media.

You may be a “digital native” . You don’t even remember Windows 95 and Compuserve. That doesn’t excuse you from this one.

I understand lol, I know that ALL CAPS IS YELLING, and I try to keep up with what the digital cultural metaphors are.

But just because you speak digital doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to speak to people. Having a conversation is about valuing the person in front of you. At 40, I get irritated when everyone at the table keeps checking their phone. Which means that I’m often irritated at myself.

Can you have a conversation? A lengthy conversation, that’s verbal, personal and face to face?

Try it out. If you are struggling, google it. You should know how to do that, right?

Scuba diving makes communication difficult. Life Lesson #17

Keep your communication above the water line.

Above the water line

This one is a bit cultural, so you may have to contextualize.

Some background might help though in understanding cultures. Culture, we often see as a geopolitical thing. Tribes in Africa, countries in Europe, regions in America. Barbeque versus Vegan type thing.

But culture goes deeper than that. Organizations have their own cultures, schools have their own cultures, teams have their cultures. Marriages have cultures.

Too often, communication goes below the line. Like an Ice Berg, the reality is not what is seen. And then the games begin. Everyone becomes a shrink, trying to figure out the real meaning of what we are saying, judging every nuance and inflection. Every eye lift and head tilt.

The problem is that we are often poor cultural interprets. Case in point? In the USA, eye contact is a sign of respect. In Tanzania, eye contact can be seen as a sign of disrecpect or even other less savory things.  Simple, above the line communication makes life so much easier to decipher. Just say it.

Say it gentlely. Be Nice. But everyone loves a straight talker, as long as they aren’t an angry straight talker. Just saying…

Get over yourself and get counseling. Life Lesson #15

Go to counseling.

There, I said it. A couple days ago, I wrote about dealing with your baggage.  But it goes beyond that.

I have friends who are separated. Others who are divorced. Others headed that way.  I’ve got broke friends.

And then I have some who have survived adultery, drugs, and all sorts of junk. Friends who’ve made a lot of money.  The difference? Counseling.

Counseling is an act of rebellion against your pride.

Now, not all counselors are created equal. I personally have seen a number. The first guy we saw, well, he was nice but didn’t help. The second guy was someone I talked to. He cried with me real good. But I quit. He didn’t help.

The essence of true counseling is someone who can counsel. Not lay you down on a couch. Counsel. The word means to give advice. Who can tell you what to do. Who can read the situation, who’s walked before, that person is worth their weight in gold, and many times their hourly fee.

Todd told me when I was 22 to put $200 a month into an untouchable savings account. Right now, I’ve got $48,000 in saving. Actually, I don’t. Why? Because I disregarded good counsel.

So don’t be proud. Get some financial advise. Some relational advice. Some career advise. Some spiritual advice. Pay for it. And get it from someone who knows what they are talking about, not your goofball friends. Because they are as broke as you are.