Do you want a shortcut to greatness? Get yourself a mentor!
We often speak about the 10,000 hours rule to describe how much time you need to become a world-class expert, which roughly equates to around 10 years of practice.
But what if you could reduce this number to barely 1 year and a half? Let’s see how you can do that with a mentor.
The power of mentors
Mentors are especially helpful for two reasons:
First, they are accomplished experts in their domain. They have been there. They know the field very well. So they can guide you to the critical path that brings the biggest learning gains. As insiders, they can also provide you access to fellow experts and exclusive learning materials.
Secondly, they are a significant source of motivation. Usually, the mentor has a close relationship with the mentee, and they trust each other. When you are on the verge of collapse, your mentor will help you push back your limits. And when you fail, your mentor will provide the right soothing words to help you recover. This goes a long way in ensuring you persist through strenuous training.
How to find your mentor?
That’s the million-dollar question, right? As accomplished experts, mentors are in high demand. If not retired yet, they are also very busy with their own projects. So you will have a hard time convincing them you are worth their time.
One strategy I found effective was to get hired in a company where I am surrounded by great talents. Doing this is tricky.
First, you need to ensure the company you want to join has high standards when it comes to hiring. You need to find out what are the requirements to apply for a job in the company and what is the minimum level of education.
Second, you need to get hired. And if they put a high bar for candidates, this means you’ll have a hard time getting hired, right? So you need to market yourself well and convince the company you have something unique to offer.
Personally, that’s what I did to get hired for my current position as a lead software developer. The unique thing I offered was my deep understanding of project management. As proof, I talked about the management books I read over the years, and the certifications I passed. This made a great impression on the CEO of a small start-up company. After a second technical interview, they decided to hire me.
Now I have the pleasure of working with many great software engineers. Some of them started providing me with a lot of feedback and guidance on the skills I lacked. They became my mentors for those skills.
Start with books
If you want to find a mentor outside your main job in a new field you are exploring, I would advise you to start with books. Good books are an incredibly cheap and time-efficient way to learn a new field. They are very dense in terms of learning material. Experts usually spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours of their time to make the content compelling and digestible.
As advised in the book “The art of impossible” by Steven Kotler, it’s best to read 5 good books on the topic you want to master. The first book should be a best-seller, in order to motivate you to explore and get a feel of the field you want to learn. Then you move progressively to more and more challenging books, the final one being on the future of the field.
Opportunities are everywhere
Once you know the field intellectually and have practiced a bit, it’s time to find the missing pieces of information by turning to experts. This requires that you keep yourself aware of opportunities. You’ll soon discover that the market is not efficient. Good deals are everywhere in terms of ways to get in touch with experts.
I’ve been blogging since 2007, and in the beginning, I thought it would be impossible to contact an author of a good book. But I’ve been proven wrong again and again. In fact, many authors can be easily contacted through their social media feeds or contact form on their websites. For example, I was in touch once with Derek Sivers, a well-known entrepreneur who has an insane number of fans (287 700 tweeter followers as I’m writing this).
Build a relationship
If you want to build a close relationship with an expert, you should especially turn to “emerging stars”, people that produce outstanding work but are not well known yet. Usually, they are on the lookout for enthusiastic people that are ready to beta-test a new course they are building or a new book they are writing.
In cohort-based courses, the first cohort of people getting trained always has a privileged relationship with the expert, and you can learn a lot if you take the train right where it is starting. For example, I once reached out by email to Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi, authors of “Primed to Perform”, one of my favorite books on motivation and management. They were delighted by my enthusiasm for their book, and they invited me to beta test their upcoming management application.
Expertise hot spots
Going one step further, you will sometimes notice there are hot spots for a practice. This is especially true for music. For example, Detroit was the hot spot for talented black singers of the 60s and 70s. Bristol was the hot spot for Trip Hop artists such as Portishead and Massive Attack in the 90s.
If you can move to a place full of experts in the field you want to master, it’s an incredible advantage. If you meet them in person, you will build much stronger relationships. This is critical as asking questions formally is not the best way to learn from them. It’s much better if they can be involved personally in your progress and provide you feedback regularly. In the book Smartcuts by Shane Snow, the author agrees that informal mentorship is where the magic happens.
One form of mentorship I’ve found especially interesting is co-mentorship. It is a reciprocal mentorship practice in which participants learn from one another in a mutually beneficial way.
The first option is to mentor each other in the same field. For example, let’s say you want to become an expert at writing on Medium. Then you can do co-mentorship meetings with someone who has a talent for writing on Medium.
How do you find that person? Well, a number of Medium publications provide a slack group community to their contributors. And it’s a great way to develop relationships with fellow writers. For example, I often contribute to the ILLUMINATION publication. And inside their Slack group, there is a section where people can ask for mentorship. Just write a message there and you will find a mentor on the topic of writing.
The second option is to do an exchange of skills. You can do this if you find someone with complementary skills to your own skills. Let’s say: you are good at digital marketing but not so much on the technical aspect of building websites. Then you can pair up with a techie who wants to improve on marketing.
For me, personally, I like to hang out with one of my neighbors. And after some time, we realized we have many things to learn from each other.
At some point last year, I hired him to cook for me and teach me some recipes, as he knows how to cook delightful Mauritian dishes. In exchange, I often give him psychology and productivity advice, coming from my experience as a productivity blogger. Also, we have complementary personality traits as he’s an extrovert while I’m an introvert. For example, I can usually calm him down when he’s upset, and he can light up my mood with his optimistic stance and upbeat music. This has been a marvelous alliance!
We’ve covered a lot of ground today to help you pick up skills quicker with a mentor. I first showed you why mentorship is a powerful way to learn faster. I mentioned how to get a job where you are surrounded by many potential mentors. Then we’ve seen it’s better to start with books if you want to learn a new skill you know nothing about outside your work career.
Once you know enough about the subject, you can start to look for opportunities to talk to experts on social media or via their contact form. We also spoke about targeting the “emerging stars”, that is, the experts that are not famous yet but have potential. And I mentioned that you can move to an expertise hot spot, that is: a place where you can meet a lot of experts in your target field.
Finally, we covered co-mentorship, which is a low-hanging fruit solution if you need to have a mentor right away.
I hope you liked the article. Please share your mentoring stories in the comments!
Featured image by The Wikimedia Fundation