There’s an easier, better, counterintuitive way to find a mentor and accelerate your success
6 min read
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There are many actions you can take to become an expert at something. Some of those actions help you do it faster but only a few can accelerate your learning enough to hack the success ladder. Training with a master is one of them. A mentor can help you skip many traditional steps and reach the top of whatever success mountain you're climbing much faster. Finding the mentor who is right for you might seem tricky but it's easier than you think. And, it's not how you think.
The traditional master-protégé relationship
Consider the traditional way using a Star Wars example. Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. The old master helped Luke learn specific Jedi skills and knowledge fast. Before that, Obi-Wan had Yoda do that for him. Later, Luke helped Rey channel the force that awakened within her.
You could follow the Jedi example and find a master to help you learn it relatively fast, too. Think about a passion or profession you'd love to master but have limited time to do it. If you want to achieve success in it, you have to learn more about it and become more skilled in it than most people on this planet. To do this, you could try to find your Yoda — a master of this domain — and ask him to train you. If someone you know fits this profile, reach out to him. If you know him well, he'll likely be flattered and say yes. Let the training begin!
But, let's be real. Many of us do not have such a Jedi master — an expert who can train us in our passion field and accelerate our growth in it. However, this may be good news. Research conducted by the psychologist Christina Underhill shows "mentoring does improve career outcomes for individuals" and that informal mentoring has a significantly higher effect on success than structured, formal mentoring programs such as the ones offered by corporate employers. Thus, effective mentor-protégé relationships are more casual.
How to find your informal mentor
How casual does spending an evening reading a book or learning from a master online sound? Think about your long-term goals and dreams. Now, think about the people who inspire you and who you aspire to be more like. This has to be someone prominent. The likes of Mark Cuban, Spike Lee or Tyra Banks fit the bill if you aspire to crush it in entrepreneurship, filmmaking or reality TV innovation. Decide on an individual who best fits your life and career goals. Then, follow her path and take years off your success climb.
Even Luke Skywalker used books, the Force texts, to better grasp the power of the force on his island of solitude. While he was fortunate enough to train with Obi-Wan and Yoda, these books provided the needed guidance after they departed. This is why Rey saved the ancient books from the fire and took them with her.
The Jedi were lucky to be spared from clever social media memes and funny panda videos that offer enticing entertainment options to distract us. We, on the other hand, must muster the strength to resist and realize our time is better spent learning. And the way we learn and what we focus on matters.
What to learn and how
Learn everything you can about your "mentor." Go to her Wikipedia page and click on each link one by one and read, watch and listen. Buy every book she wrote or written about her and read, underline and take notes in it. Use sticky notes or tabs to mark the big a-has. Come back to them often. There's a reason your master is at the top of the field you're trying to break into so learn "her way" — her thinking, her routines, her process and her associations.
Devote an entire notebook to learning about this one person and use it to take notes when watching his videos, listening to his podcast appearances and reading the articles he wrote or were written about him. But, most importantly, always reflect on and analyze his thinking and actions. Ask and answer questions such as:
- Why did he do it this way?
- How did he do it?
- What did it accomplish?
- How can I apply it?
Learn from his successes and failures. Imitate what works. Avoid what doesn't. In his book Made in America, Sam Walton describes visiting competitors' stores to find ideas for his. The billionaire founder of Walmart, seen as a "master" by many, admits he "stole" effective processes from his competitors.
Focus your efforts on this. Set aside time each day, maybe an hour or two, and begin your training. Treat this endeavor as a big project and come up with a plan of study and application.
You may be asking: If it's so easy why doesn't everybody do it? The truth is that it's not easy. Most people don't have the discipline to study the masters in such a way.
Some people might find it weird and obsessive — stalker-like. But, it's not. Even if you experience feeling creepy about following someone's life journey, the feeling will start fading once you begin noticing the results you're getting.
Most people never reach the top rungs of the success ladder because they struggle to find the motivation and the willpower to develop success habits, which are ironically the very things you can learn from the masters. Reading one book and watching an occasional video is not enough.
Mastery calls for full immersion and "walking the path," not looking at it from afar. To understand how the master does it, you must examine, analyze and apply her processes. You must fail and learn from it, too. The young Skywalker even lost a hand before he could really challenge Darth Vader for Jedi supremacy.
And like Luke, you must find the right path to walk and use its force to achieve mastery. Learn about the force from a master, apply the force repeatedly and master how to channel the force to accelerate your growth.