Great mentors are hard to come by.
Everyone wants a mentor; and many think that attracting a mentor means finding someone who is going to give them all the answers for free.
But the truth is, mentors are everywhere: in your workplace, your gym, your neighborhood, your apartment complex. Even someone you chat with once a year could be considered a mentor, if you know how to make use of that relationship and still extract value.
The challenge, however, is most apprentices or ambitious individuals don’t know how to put themselves in a position to be mentored in the first place. And I don’t mean physically, as in “being in the right place at the right time.” I mean emotionally.
The same people who say they want to be mentored, also go to great lengths to prove how much they already know; and in turn, end up repelling potential mentors (because who wants to teach someone who thinks they already know everything?).
Finding a great mentor requires you to be open, humble, and ready to admit what you don’t know.
That’s step one.
And if you can’t do that, you won’t be learning anything from anyone.
But something most individuals seeking “mentorship” fail to realize is that the best lessons, the ones that truly move the needle in terms of your own personal development, aren’t taught directly. No one is going to spot one of your weaknesses, sit you down, and give you a solution on a silver platter.
That’s not how a mentorship works.
Every mentor I’ve had in my life thus far has involved more indirect learning than direct learning. Sure, these mentors may explain certain concepts in depth. They may take the time to break down confusing concepts. But all in all, the real lessons come from observing them as they work.
The real value of a mentor is being able to witness their process first hand.
The best apprentices, then, are the ones who are able to sit there, watch, and extract their own lessons without words even being exchanged.
These individuals know the art of active listening. They know when to ask questions and when to just observe. They know what is worth paying attention to, in each and every moment.
In exchange, their mentors end up teaching them the most valuable lesson of all:
How they think.
As mentor and apprentice begin to spend more and more time together, what starts to happen is the apprentice will see how their mentor approaches problem solving.
They will witness their mentor work through a challenge, or contemplates an obstacle, and that subconscious mode of thinking will begin to rub off. Without even realizing it, the apprentice will internalize that same approach, until one day they find themselves in a similar situation, using the same techniques to overcome whatever challenge they’re facing.
This is the real value of having a mentor.
The best mentors know this, and so they prioritize putting their apprentices in situations that allow them to witness the work as it happens. They know true learning doesn’t follow a classroom-style approach. Instead, they throw the apprentice into the deep end and tell them to keep up.
As a result, the apprentice grows very, very quickly.
And meanwhile, the mentor doesn’t have to slow down at all.
Finding great mentors in life is all about being able to spot moments like these.
Like I said, mentors are everywhere.
Pay attention to the way your boss handles sales calls. Pay attention to the way your manager manages people. Pay attention to the way your entrepreneur friend goes about setting goals and achieving them. Pay attention to the way people around you do things, and then decide for yourself whether that’s something you want to internalize or leave behind.
Mentorship, then, becomes much more of a deliberate and ongoing learning process. It also puts you, the apprentice, the student on his or her journey, in control of what you learn and where you go.
The more you can actively listen and pay attention, the more knowledge you have to choose from.
This article from Medium originally appeared on Inc. Magazine.