Did you know today is International Mentoring Day? Well, I just found out about it, too, so don't feel so bad.
When I started to think about the subject of mentoring, the first thing that came to mind was a phrase from Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The phrase is "Are you my mentor?" It equates a young woman's search to finding a mentor to the much-loved children's book Are You My Mother? where a young bird searches for its mother asking anything and everything that same question.
So often those of us in our career make the mistake of endlessly searching for a mentor. Thinking you will find the perfect mentor who will let you hitch their star to yours and take you to the corner office is not the answer. You're allowing yourself to believe your entire career can be based off the success of someone else's. You don't need to (and shouldn't) depend on others for your success. As Sandberg said, "I believe we have sent the wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, 'Get a mentor and you will excel.' Instead, we need to tell them, 'Excel and you will get a mentor.
I've had many great mentors throughout my life and my career. Some have come into my life for a small amount of time while others have seen me through it all. While very important to me, none of these have been a formal mentorship. We don't have scheduled meetings and, frankly, the word mentor has never been uttered. I've always had an unspoken knowledge that these people were there to guide me through it all. They were ready and willing to let me pick their brains. It was a mutual relationship. I was able to look up to someone who had "been there, done that," while they were able to gain a new perspective and introduced to new ways of looking at the world.
Thinking back, one of my first mentors was Hope Atuel, my manager at my first "real" job. She taught me the importance of doing what you say you will and when you say you will. I'll never forget what she said to me on my first day "I believe when you stop learning, you start dying." From that moment on, I knew she was someone I would want to emulate in my career. She was passionate, making ranks in the boys' clubs and she knew her stuff. I worked for Hope for about a year, a relatively short amount of time, but she taught me so much. In case I've never said it, thank you, Hope.
Another one of my mentors is Nick Belcore. Nick and I have worked together for over 10 years and I began officially reporting to him about a year ago. Again, I never formally asked Nick to become my mentor but he is and he knows it. Nick came from a very different industry so his perspective on conducting business is quite different than mine. He is very formal, wearing suits every day; the audio-visual industry is the complete opposite but his systematic way of doing business has taught me invaluable lessons. His door is always open to me, whether it's personal of business advice. He's spent countless hours answering questions, weighing in on issues and giving me general guidance. For that , I am thankful.
The list of people (to whom I am immensely thankful) who have provided guidance in my career is long. I am grateful that I am now able to mentor younger women in our industry and I hope they are finding our relationship as fulfilling as I am.
P.S. Check out the Women in Consumer Technology's Connect Circle. This formal program is FREE to join and is made up of small groups of women looking to connect, learn and grow together.
Megan A. Dutta