There’s a popular notion that your twenties are “the time of your life.” But young adulthood is also often rife with a debilitating uncertainty that leaves younger generations feeling frustrated and lost, particularly when it comes to paving their career paths; feelings that are only heightened by the implication that one needs to choose a single profession. This doubt is in part why younger employees tend to switch jobs more frequently than older employees. And, in an age where the number of career options is growing, the prospect of navigating the early years of your career alone is arguably more daunting than ever before.
If ever they were, career paths are no longer linear trajectories. The exponential development in the number of new technologies creates demand for new skills and continuously optimizes the quality of global connectivity, which in turn, amplifies the number of opportunities. Coupled with the fact that organizations worldwide are increasingly offering their staff the opportunity to work remotely, young people are faced with a job market more global and more flexible than ever.
As a result, both early-career employees and employers are recognizing the benefits of mentorship. Early-career employees need to be deliberate when it comes to paving the career path they want for themselves. But they don’t need to do so alone. Finding a trusted mentor to guide you along the way can be one of the most important milestones in one’s career. Here’s why.
They can solidify your sense of purpose
Our motivation to do things is inextricably linked to our purpose for doing so. Whether it’s our motivation to buy a certain product, learn something new, or work, we need a reason. In his popular TED Talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” Simon Sinek rationalized how business leaders inspire action by defining their company’s mission in accordance with their “why” as opposed to their “what.” He explains, customers don’t buy just because “Apple makes great computers,” or what they do; they buy because “Apple believes in challenging the status quo,” or why they do it. In turn, the desire to form part of this mission is also how Apple attracts top talent.
The reason young people often feel frustrated with their jobs is because they haven’t yet answered the “why” question for themselves—such as, “Why am I here?” And it’s an important one to have an answer for. Because no job is perfect; there will always be certain tasks you prefer to others, and it’s often when working on these that you feel dissatisfied and begin to question, “Why am I doing this?” Of course, financial responsibilities are an important motivator, but without the need to provide for a family or having committed to a mortgage, for example, a pay-check is less likely to be enough to appease younger employees. A role model however, is.
A mentor is a real-life confirmation that your aspirations are more than just pipe dreams, that there’s someone who overcame the struggle, and succeeded. They solidify our much-needed sense of purpose.
They’re a source of resources
Each person’s path will inevitably be unique. Early-career employees need to shape their careers, subject to different circumstances and timing, to their mentors. Undoubtedly, different skills and resources too. And while the first two factors can’t be helped, the latter two can, to an extent.
Mentors have the benefit of hindsight. Your goal might differ slightly to that of your mentor, but so long as there is sufficient overlap between your desired career path and that of theirs, mentors can be a valuable source of knowledge and introduce you to new connections. These resources can accelerate your success, open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible, and even help you avoid certain pitfalls.
According to a recent LinkedIn study, 76% of Gen Z individuals consider learning to be the key to their career advancement, with 58% of millennials and Gen Z, surveyed by IBM, planning to take continuing education courses this year. The demand for development opportunities is clear, and mentors provide a one-on-one relationship that holds this priority in focus.
They can be a long-term trusted ally
Companies know the benefit of corporate-mentorship programs, and many Fortune 500 companies invest in them. There are obvious advantages to company-sponsored mentorships. They can be especially valuable during the course of an employee’s tenure within the organization. However, the most valuable mentors are arguably those with whom a mentee can sustain a long-term relationship, someone who the mentee admires holistically, and aspires to be like in X-years’ time. This doesn’t mean you can’t choose a mentor you work with, but the idea is to choose someone who can continue their mentorship role regardless of who you work for, and someone with whom you can speak truthfully about your future plans.
Oftentimes, learning and achieving your milestones involve taking yourself out of your comfort zone, taking risks. Having someone to share the experience with can be reassuring, even if purely on an emotional level. In fact, mentors can help boost your confidence, thereby increasing the level of risk you’re willing to take; propel you to seize opportunities you otherwise might not have; and help make your chances of success that much more likely.
With or without a mentor, uncertainty and frustration are inevitable parts of life. But the limbo phase of young adulthood can be especially daunting and rife with emotional turmoil. Finding a mentor you admire, both personally and professionally, can be transformational in giving you a sense of control, a direction over your career development—and perhaps most importantly, the confidence you need to maximize it.
Laura Izquierdo Bosch is a freelance writer and podcast host.