The 1913 version of Webster’s Dictionary defines a mentor as a “wise and faithful counselor or monitor.”

I read this definition with askance.  I have experienced unwise, indifferent, and ignorant mentors.  People who had been assigned the title of “mentor,” but who had no idea what they were supposed to be.  Often, they merely checked off “mentor-mentee” meetings as an item on their to-do list.  

There may have been a beginning, but no roadmap existed to define and to grow the relationship.

So what is a mentor?

When I was young, I thought that mentors had all the answers.  I believed that if I followed their advice and example, then I would experience the same success that they had.  I subconsciously desired certainty, and treated mentors’ advice like an algebra equation.  The key variable was that I just had to work hard.

Except that sifting through mentors’ advice is more like trying to solve a calculus equation than an algebraic one.

As you seek mentors, remember that mentors are humans with their own personal body of experiences and biases.  At the end of the day, you must understand what you want to achieve with each mentor-mentee relationship where you are the mentee.


As you work through your networks to find mentors, ask yourself these questions:

  • What type of mentor are you seeking?

    • Knowledge and skill mentor?

    • Aspirational mentor?

    • Peer mentor?

    • Life mentor?

    • Career mentor?

    • Perspective mentor?

  • Have you done your research about your target list of mentors?

  • What are your expectations of the mentor-mentee relationship?

  • What can you offer your target mentor?

Wise and faithful counselors are out there for everyone – but you have to do the work to sift through and to find them.

And sometimes, they are right in front of you.

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