Start by reassessing your definition of mentor.
“I think I need a mentor.” How many of you have had that thought? It’s certainly a sticky idea that stays glued somewhere in the back of my mind, surfacing every so often in deep contemplation about my life and in conversations with girlfriends about the trajectory of our careers.
I’ve read countless articles about the importance of finding a mentor particularly for young women. We’re told we need this person to serve as a sounding board, a connector, and our guide through difficult life and career choices. As someone who’s recently detonated her own career foundation and begun to rebuild a new, I have without a doubt bought into the popular opinion and resolved that I do in fact need a mentor. It’s a resolution that has found its way onto my 2014 vision board and has been pulling its way to the front of my thoughts more often.
As any uber Type-A personally would, I’ve begun my quest for a mentor by doing my research and outlining a plan. I wanted to know what types of mentors I should seek, what qualities they should embody, and how I should go about asking someone to take on this significant role.
Most of my research lead me to the same place. Look for someone who is several ladder rungs up in your industry that is successful, well-connected, and embodies where you want to be in a few years. Then I came across something different, an approach to mentoring that stood out from the rest and particularly piqued my interest. It is called peer mentoring.
What is Peer Mentoring?
Peer mentoring takes the approach of learning from someone at your own level. What differentiates it from traditional mentoring are the goals each involved party seeks to get out of the relationship. Peer mentoring is much more about achieving personal over professional growth and development. Since you are seeking advice and support from someone at your own level, it’s generally not a relationship intended to drive forward your career and help pull you up the ladder.
Why Get a Peer Mentor?
So why get a peer mentor you might be asking. The trouble with traditional mentor/mentee relationships is that each direction is a one-way street. Your mentor is there to impart her knowledge upon you while you are there to soak it in. What peer mentoring provides is an equal playing field. In a peer mentoring relationship the interaction is mutually beneficial. One person is not seen as the giver of knowledge and the other the receiver. You are both the mentor and mentee, and you are both in it to learn something from the other person. Is there something in life you’d loved to learn but have aren’t sure how to get started? Maybe you would like to learn how to cook, how to get more followers on Instagram, or how to start running. These are all personal goals that could be served by the help from a peer mentor. Yes, you could read a book or a few blog posts on these things but why not borrow the mentorship model and find someone who can advise you in these areas? This also becomes a great opportunity to strengthen existing relationships with friends as it gives you a reason both to spend more time together and to get to know each other in a new way.
Finding a peer mentor
Figuring out whom to make your peer mentor shouldn’t be over complicated. Peer mentors are any individuals who can learn something from one another. You should have complimentary skills that the other person is interested in learning. For example, you might take your friend up on an offer to learn Spanish in exchange for teaching her how to ski. Peer mentorship can also be established among a group. If there are several of you interested in learning from one another. Remember the goal for the relationship is mutual personal growth, and this doesn’t need to be limited to one on one interaction.
Establishing the Relationship
When you’ve found the person(s) with whom you want to set up a peer mentorship with, it’s a good idea to begin your official duties by laying some ground rules. This doesn’t have to be anything too formal but it’s helpful to get all parties on the same page. Grab a coffee and discuss what is it that you each want to get out of the relationship. Figure out how often you’d like to meet to and for how long. Make a plan to keep the give and take on both sides of the relationship equal. Lastly, set goals for yourselves. What do you each want to accomplish and by when? You may even want to set up an incentive for meeting that goal like a girls weekend getaway or dinner at your favorite spot.
Back to Looking for a Mentor
While I am still in the market for a professional mentor, I personally love the idea of establishing a peer mentorship as well. There are several things I’ve made it my mission to achieve this year that have nothing to do with my career. I want to learn how to be more creative, get craftier in my DIY skills, and to learn my new DSLR camera, among other things. I could dig in and start reading a book on how to do these things and probably get pretty good results. Alternatively I could spend that time with a friend learning from her knowledge, sharing mine, and deepening our relationship. Given the choice, I’ll take the latter.
Have you heard of peer mentoring? Ever given it a try? Tell us how it has helped you. Just now considering it? Tell us what you think!