You hear a lot of talk about the benefits of mentorship, particularly when it comes to your career. And for good reason. I think that having a resource you can lean on when you need a little direction or a good, old-fashioned confidence boost can be a great thing.
However, confession time: I have never had an "official" mentor of my own. That’s right—I preach the value of having one all day long. But it’s something I’ve never actually put into practice myself.
For a long time, this made me feel like I was missing out on something—like I was only sort of doing this whole "career" thing, because I didn’t have my very own Mr. Miyagi offering me insightful guidance and verifying my every work-related decision. "One day," I thought, "I’ll finally cross paths with this one knowledgeable person, and the whole rest of my professional identity will fall into place."
But then I realized something important: I don’t want one. In fact, I don’t even think I need one. Forgive my shameless gloating, but I’ve managed to build a pretty decent career for myself without this all-knowing mastermind forging the path ahead of me.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t need a little advice and encouragement every now and then (I’m only human, after all). But I’ve learned that I don’t need a guru up on a pedestal in order to get that. I’ve actually found a few different tactics and strategies that help me to keep moving forward, without putting all of my faith in one particular person. So here’s how I managed to have a thriving career—without that special someone helping me along.
Like I said, just because I don’t want a mentor per se doesn’t mean I never need any advice or instruction. There are plenty of times (more than I’d care to admit, actually) when I just want to talk through my career problems or decisions with someone else.
However, I quickly realized that there wasn’t one singular person out there who could help me with every single roadblock I encountered. We’re all different, with different skill sets and experiences. And, only looking to one particular person each and every time I needed help would only limit and frustrate me—and likely my mentor, as well.
So, instead of selecting one individual to act as my career guide and weigh in on my career moves, I tapped into my network in order to build my own web of what I’ll call "mini mentors." If I encounter a glitch with one of my websites, I reach out to my old high school friend who now works as a developer. If I need some writing advice or tips for dealing with a difficult client, I’ve learned to lean on my fellow writers and editors—like my team of coworkers here at the Muse. If I’m feeling completely discouraged and disheartened? Let’s face it—I call my mom.
This diversified knowledge and expertise has been so helpful to me, and I’m just not confident that I could’ve gotten all of it with the help of just one person. Nobody can know absolutely everything.
Here’s one big benefit I know that mentors provide: They help to nudge you in the right direction. Even if something terrifies you, they can typically give you the encouragement—and ultimately, the push—you need to do it anyway. However, it’s important to realize that your adviser can really only push you so far. In the end, it’s up to you to take the leap, whether someone is encouraging you to do so or not.
Needless to say, I’ve learned the importance of grabbing the bull by the horns and being proactive in my own career. I’ve taken online courses to beef up skills that were lacking. I’ve read books and online articles to expand my knowledge of specific topics. I’ve set up meetings with influencers in my career field. I’ve chased raises and promotions. I quit my traditional, nine-to-five job without a backup plan.
These are all things a mentor would’ve likely eventually pushed me to do. And, admittedly, those nudges and words of affirmation would’ve been appreciated at times. However, I counted on myself to determine what was important enough to accomplish—rather than looking to someone else to tell me which chess piece to move next. That self-reliance was terrifying most of the time, and it inspired a ridiculous amount of nail biting. But it’s served to make me more confident in my work, my capabilities, and my decisions.
I’m someone who has the tendency to seek confirmation that I’m doing things right. Even if it’s a small assignment or a completely minor detail, I thrive on those, "Yep, you’ve got it!" verifications.
It’s for this very reason that I know having one specific mentor would be a bad thing for me. I’m self-aware enough to know that I’d look to that person to put his or her stamp of approval on every single decision I make. I’d feel shaky and unsure without it. And my hypothetical adviser would likely grow tired of my incessant requests for approval. There’s a big difference between guiding and hand holding, after all.
Even if you have a mentor you adore and admire, it’s crucial that you recognize that he or she doesn’t have a crystal ball. Perhaps he’s been in your exact situation before, but there’s still no guarantee that your path will exactly mirror his. You’ll have your own individual experience—even if you follow every single step he outlines for you.
So instead of looking to one person to give me a breakdown of how things might play out, I’ve learned to trust my own gut when making career decisions. Your intuition and your conscience exist for a reason. If you experience that butterflies in your stomach feeling that tells you something’s not quite right, it’s up to you to trust your instincts—regardless of what anyone around you has to say about it. Learning to rely on my own intuition has helped me immensely throughout my career, and it’s a trait I would’ve undoubtedly squelched and stifled by having a mentor.
I won’t argue that mentorship doesn't come with its fair share of great benefits. And if you’re someone who needs and wants a trusted adviser in your career, then more power to you!
But if you’re someone like me who has never felt a desire to look to that one expert mastermind to give you the go-ahead on every career-related decision you make? Well, don’t get bent out of shape and trick yourself into thinking you’re coming up short. There’s no rulebook that states you absolutely need one in order to attain success. Take it from me—you can still do alright for yourself without an "official" mentor in your corner.
This article originally appeared on the Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.