As the CEO and cofounder of Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women, I hear new research about the state of gender equality in the workplace and strategies for leveling the playing field all the time. One term that’s widely tossed around as a way for women to advance their careers is mentorship: a professional relationship where a mentee learns valuable insight, best practices, and soft skills from a mentor to get ahead at work.
While a mentor can certainly help women build meaningful careers, I don’t think you need one to be successful. I’ve never had a traditional mentor—and neither have many of the professional women I know—but we’ve still found success in our careers. Here’s why:
No one individual holds the key to your success
You can learn just as much from your boss, your coworker, your neighbor, or a panel presenter as you would from a traditional mentor. By loosening your definition of mentorship to include the people you interact with every day, you’ll be privy to a wider range of knowledge and skills that can propel your career in a variety of directions, rather than just one.
Connections made through mentors are secondhand
Although a strong mentorship can help you move up the corporate ladder, it’s not a guarantee. When you’re introduced to individuals in your mentor’s circle, the connections typically aren’t as strong as the connections you make on your own because they’re secondhand. It’s more important to invest in making as many firsthand connections as you can, so you can grow your network on your own accord. To gain these one-on-one connections, attend conferences and networking events or look for public channels and communities (on Slack or elsewhere) you could join.
Mentorship can literally waste your time
Planning a short coffee date with your mentor may not seem like a big commitment, but it’s important to assess the value you get out of that meeting. It can sometimes be difficult to know beforehand if spending time with a mentor will provide you with anything useful, but I’d suggest walking in with an agenda or a topic you want to discuss. If you don’t have anything you want to talk about, it might be a better use of your time to prepare for a presentation you’re giving, get ahead on a project you’re working on, or offer to support your boss or colleague with some work you could benefit getting your hands on.
You don’t need a person to teach you everything
In the age of the internet, you can find practically anything online with a quick search. For example, if you want to learn how to negotiate, find a free online course to take or read up on a few articles. There are so many resources out there to help you learn a variety of skills—you don’t always need another individual to teach you something. Having a mentor to help push you in the right direction and get you moving on what you want to do is incredibly useful, but you can also do this with a trusted source. Tell your partner, a relative, or a friend what you want to accomplish and have them hold you accountable for reaching those goals. Self-motivation is difficult, but not impossible.
No one is perfect
Trying to find the “perfect mentor” often results in frustration and wasted time and energy because they don’t exist! You also run the risk of being boxed into following their journey, rather than getting creative in paving your own. How about finding a role model (or two), instead? Someone whose brain you’d like to pick or whose career you admire, but whose path won’t get in the way of your own.
Ultimately, mentors are incredibly important in the success of certain individuals, but if you want to learn something new or move up in your career, your biggest motivator is yourself.
Georgene Huang is the cofounder and CEO of Fairygodboss.