Posted by Jacob Victory
I recently bought a pair of trousers. The cloth was fancy, the pleats were perfection and the pants actually had lining. “Swanky,” I thought to myself, and I got excited about the discounted price; so I bought it—without trying it on because I’m a lazy shopper and found my size quickly. Excited about the purchase, I didn’t think about the pants until I had to wear it a couple of days later. Yet, my enthusiasm waned; when I slipped on the trousers I had a wrestling match with the pants hook in order to button the pants. It did not hook properly and despite my strong intentions, multiple attempts and raised eyebrows, the hook won and I gave up. Defeated, I slipped into an older pair, grabbed my keys and took the train to have breakfast with one of my mentors.
On the train ride to work after my breakfast—elated at having had an hour’s worth of advice, encouragement, playful banter and savory hash-browns—my mind obsessed about the pants hook. While I dislike purchasing clothes, I had found a great pair of fitted and expensive (albeit discounted) trousers. But that blasted hook prevented me from wearing it. Annoyed, my mind reflected back to my breakfast conversations and I was thankful that I had one mentor who, despite his modest rolodex and retirement from health care 10 years ago, understood me, listened to the questions I asked, and offered his years of experience, observations, and input on how I should focus on what I seek, delegate the rest, and look forward to all that a successful professional and social life has to offer. “He’s got me hooked on every word he says,” I recall thinking. And, just as the train conductor announced my stop, it struck me that “hook” was the morning’s theme.
On one hand, I had a fancy pair of trousers with the perfect cut and material but it was useless to me because I could not hook it up properly. On the other hand, I had a modest man of modest means offering me a tanker’s weight in wisdom & encouragement—and had me hooked for more. I believe in mentorship. If you’re a looking for a mentor, here are eight points to consider:
1. Seek mentors who listen more than they speak. They are often the wisest.
2. Do not solely focus on seeking the most powerful, well-liked or well-positioned person you can find. The best advice or opportunity is not always offered by those in “high” places.
3. Once you identify someone, never ever (ever) ask, “Will you be my mentor?” It can be off-putting and tainted with obligation. Instead, consider asking them out for coffee or a phone-chat by asking: 1) “There is an issue on which I would love your advice,” or 2) “I’d love to hear about your background and thoughts on (insert topic here).” Anyone who allocates their time and lavishes advice on you will, in time, become your mentor.
4. Find that “hook,” or that connection or particular commonality that bolsters your relationship.
5. Carve out time to build a relationship, as this is 90% of the task.
6. Consider their time valuable.
7. Realize that some people are not inclined to teach, to give advice or lend their time. If you receive a polite “no,” thank them anyway and move on.
8. Lastly: enjoy it, as feedback is a gift.
Jacob Victory, an NYU-Wagner alum, is the Vice President of Performance Management Projects at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Jacob spends his days getting excited about initiatives that aim to reform and restructure health care. He’s held strategic planning, clinical operations and performance improvement roles at academic medical centers, in home health care and at medical schools. Jacob also exercises the right side of his brain. Besides drawing flow charts and crunching numbers all day, he makes a mean pot of stew and does abstract paintings, often interpreting faces he finds intriguing.