The Mentor Myth
I’ve had a few amazing mentors in my life, but I haven’t actually met any of them…
When I started Cup of Jo in 2007, blogging felt like the Wild West. Since blogging was still new, I didn’t have people in whose footsteps I could follow; my peers and I were just figuring things out as we went. So, to help ground myself, I made a list on my computer’s desktop of people who I could consider mentors from afar, including magazine editor Pilar Guzmán, author Anne Lamott, force of nature Michelle Obama, and neck-hater and all-around genius Nora Ephron.
Whenever I felt lost or confused about next steps, I’d think ‘what would Anne Lamott do?’ or ‘what might Michelle Obama think?’ Sometimes I’d feel disoriented because other bloggers would be forging different paths — taking gorgeous daily outfit photos or doing advanced beauty tutorials — and I wasn’t good at that. Was I falling behind? Was I not succeeding? But I’d remind myself: Nora Ephron just was herself and it worked out. I’ll keep moving forward.
I also take career snippets from other people here and there. For example, in her 2018 beauty uniform, Nora McInerny said, “I want to make things that somebody can point to and say, ‘It felt like that.’” That quote has lived on my desktop ever since. While writing about things like aging and parenting, I’ve reminded myself of her words and they’ve helped me open up.
Overall, it would be amazing to have bimonthly lunches with an older and wiser person who could guide your career, but for those of us who don’t have that, never fear! Secretly pinpoint people you respect and admire, note their career moves and philosophies, and consider yourself mentored.
I remember a great paragraph in Mindy Kaling’s memoir Why Not Me? Her own mentor Greg Daniels advises:
You take your mentoring where you can find it, even if it is not being offered to you. Have you ever used your neighbor’s Wi-Fi when it wasn’t on a password? If you have the opportunity to observe someone at work, you are getting mentoring out of them even if they are unaware or resistant. Make a list of the people you think would make the greatest mentors and try to get close enough to steal their Wi-Fi.
Mindy Kaling and Greg Daniels.
I’m so grateful to the women above for being there for me, even if they didn’t know it.
Thoughts? Do you have an in-real-life mentor? Or mentors from afar? I’d love to hear…
P.S. The best career advice, and 10 lessons I’ve learned in my career.