4 myths about having mentors (and how to overcome them)

Mentors are special people. They take us under their wise, experienced wings and help us make sense of the often-bewildering world of work. Mentors help us to sharpen our skills and smooth out our rough edges. My mentors have helped me discover new strengths, go boldly after bigger goals, and avoid (or bounce back from) some cringe-worthy career missteps. A mentoring relationship is a precious resource, indeed. Are you making the most of yours?

In observance of national mentoring month, and since it isn’t always clear how to make the most of a mentor’s time and advice, I dipped into the Be Leaderly archive to pull together this list of 11 favorite articles about being mentored. As I compiled the list, I noticed some common themes: four common mentoring myths.

Like any worthwhile professional development pursuit, being mentored is something you can improve at. If any of these myths resonate for you, click through, read on, and make the most of your mentor’s investment in you.

Myth #1: You can’t just flat-out ask a stranger to mentor you

Mentoring relationships can grow organically… if you’re lucky. Most of the time, you don’t just stumble upon a great mentor. Instead, writes Sabina Nawaz, it’s up to us to find people we respect and ask for their guidance. But approaching a stranger can be downright daunting. Right now, your inner critic is probably weighing in to add, “Why would that awe-inspiring, accomplished, industry rock-star want to help me?”

To encourage you to make the ask, Nawaz includes a sample example of a persuasive, well-crafted email in in How to Convince a Stranger to be Your Mentor. As you make your request, “Be brief, be gracious, position yourself as a highly-valuable apprentice … and as always, keep it classy,” writes Alexandra Franzen. In Desperately seeking a mentor? Franzen lays out some additional, valuable advice on what to say (and not to say) as your court your drrream mentor.

Myth #2: Your mentor will also act as your sponsor

“In the early days of your career, your mentor and sponsor are likely to be the same person,” says Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley. (What’s the difference between the two? ? A mentor helps you skill up, whereas a sponsor will help you move up.)

But things get more complicated as you progress beyond entry level, cautions Harris. Having one individual fill both roles is less than ideal. Why? Well, your sponsor needs to be squarely focused on what you’re good at, so they can act as a wholehearted ambassador for your potential and kick down doors on your behalf. That might be difficult if you’ve revealed your concerns, weaknesses, fears, or mistakes to them in a mentoring conversation. In Ask an Exec: Can My Mentor be My Sponsor? Harris describes how to select the best person for each role.

Myth #3: You’ll eventually run out of things to talk about

Have conversations with your mentor gotten repetitive? Don’t write off the relationship too quickly, even if it seems like it may have run its course. Often, it’s not the relationship that’s stale–you just need some fresh material to discuss. In Four Types of Questions To Ask Your Mentor I share four categories of questions to prepare ahead of every mentoring conversation that will keep things interesting – and valuable – for you and your mentor.

Want specific examples? I’ve listed a bunch in 25 Questions to Ask a Mentor. By preparing thoughtfully for each mentoring session, you’ll avoid the awkwardness of feeling like you’re wasting your mentor’s time and ensure the mentoring relationship remains gratifying for both of you for many years to come.

Myth #4: Being mentored is just for newbies

As we grow in competence and in our careers, setting aside time to be the recipient of a mentor’s advice can seem like an unnecessary burden. But the complexity of situations we have to deal with grows too, and there’s no way to predict when a mentor’s advice or perspective could be a career game-changer.

“I am proud and happy to be ‘mentor-rich’” writes attorney Lyndsay Markley, whose array of mentors includes trial attorney mentors, networking mentors, style mentors, judicial mentors, and rainmaking mentors. “We don’t have to be at the beginning of our careers to have a mentor,” adds Markley in The Importance of Mentoring: How Strong is Your Network?

This article first appeared on Be Leaderly.