How to Find a Mentor, or Not?

My Search For a Mentor

Throughout college, I was obsessed with becoming successful. It was my greatest desire to stand out from the crowd and set myself up for an extraordinary future. To set myself on that path, I started studying people who had already achieved massive success. Most of their stories were very different, but one word seemed to come up again and again: mentors. I developed this perception that all successful people had mentors who helped them on their way to the top. At the time, I didn’t have a single mentor, so I started panicking. “How does one go about finding a mentor?” I would ask myself. I had no idea. All I knew was I didn’t have one. And I was desperate.

During my sophomore year, as part of the President’s Leadership Program, I attended the Colorado Leadership Alliance Summit. That year, the keynote speaker happened to be an entrepreneur from Boulder. He gave a fantastic presentation, and I immediately knew this was the potential mentor I was looking for. I emailed him to introduce myself a few days after the conference, and he later got back to me. He agreed to speak with me over the phone for 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes I had one goal: convince him to agree to be my mentor.

About halfway through the conversation I awkwardly blurted out, “Would you be interested in being my mentor?” He kindly declined, saying he was focused on being a mentor for the companies in his accelerator program called the Unreasonable Institute. Looking back now, I realize how ridiculous of a question that was to ask. Here was this random guy, who I had absolutely no relationship with, and I was asking him to invest his time and energy into making me successful. Again, I found myself asking, “How does one go about finding a mentor?”

Two years later, I attended the Beta Gamma Sigma Global Leadership Summit. While listening to the CEO, Chris, speak, I discovered that she had experience working with startup companies in Colorado. Just as I was leaving the conference, I asked for her advice on how to get connected in the Boulder startup community. She gave me the email address of one of Boulder’s most influential venture capitalists. I was ecstatic. Finally, another chance to get my mentor!

After I sent the initial email to him, I emailed Chris to let her know that I had reached out. She asked, “What’s your strategy for connecting with him after he replies?” I said I planned on asking him to be my mentor. To help me avoid making that mistake again, she encouraged me to simply ask him for advice; offer to meet up and buy him a cup of coffee. And after enough of those interactions and a relationship had been developed, then maybe he would become a mentor. That piece of advice is one I have never forgotten. I was recently reminded of it while reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. In her chapter on mentors, she commented, “We need to stop saying get a mentor and you will excel. Instead, we need to say excel, and you will get a mentor.

It took me a few years, but I can now say that I have several mentors. The best part is, I didn’t have to ask any of them. They saw potential in me, and reached out to help me realize that potential. My advice then, is to focus on yourself in college, grow as a person, and build on the skills that are unique to you. Excel, first and foremost, and mentors will come to you.

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