In my first post on mentorship, I spoke about the three kinds of mentors you might not know you already have. In the second post, I shared my thoughts on getting the most from your mentorship relationships with superiors. For this third post in the series, I will focus in on the benefits you can derive from an aspirational mentor.
As a man in my early twenties, I was in desperate need of a good mentor. It might be difficult to believe, but back when I still had hair, I grew it down to my shoulders. I also had a big earring, like what pirates in the movies usually wear. During this time, I was introduced to a man who was a leader at the church where my uncle was a pastor. When I met him, he was wearing clothing you’d expect from a farmer or blue-collar worker. His hair was cut in a style that seemed to be from the 1950’s. I looked at this man and said to myself: “He must have good character to be a leader in the church, but I don’t think he’s very successful financially.” Based on his appearance, I also “knew” he wouldn’t like me, given my appearance.
These assumptions all proved wrong. This man very quickly became an aspirational mentor to me, and gave me one of the biggest breaks in my life. He gave me an apartment to live in for free, guided me to my eventual career as a Chartered Professional Accountant, and supported me through one of the darkest emotional periods in my youth. And, surprisingly, he was also the wealthiest person I have ever had a personal relationship with!
Aspirational leaders have the same effect Helen Hunt had on Jack Nicholson in the 1997 movie As Good as It Gets, which he summed up by saying: “You make me want to be a better man.” I firmly believe that every entrepreneur, and even driven employees, should have aspirational mentors who have this effect. So, here are four surprising reasons you should find a mentor you can aspire to emulate:
1. “Blind spot, what blind spot?”
2. “You think that’s a knife? THIS is a knife”
Do you remember this quote from the movie Crocodile Dundee II? A punk pulls out a small switchblade knife during an attempted mugging, and in response, Paul Hogan’s character pulls out a massive bowie knife. To me, this is the perfect analogy of how a good mentor will challenge your achievements and goals in life. You might think you’re performing optimally and stretching yourself with your goals, but a good mentor will help you see that you are only scratching the surface, and haven’t gone far enough to be satisfied with your achievements. When you can appreciate how much your mentor has achieved in life, it will make you aspire to achieve more. A mentor like this will help you find your inner superhero.
3. “Run Forest, Run!”
I don’t think I need to explain this quote. Life is filled with opportunity, but also with risk. As an entrepreneur, it might be difficult to distinguish between the two. A good mentor will help you think through specific situations to identify the potential opportunities and risks. Just like Forest Gump had to run away from the bullies, your mentor will tell you to run away from risks that could be destructive. And, just like Forest Gump played college football by running fast, a good mentor will also help you grab opportunities with both hands. A mentor you aspire to emulate will not let you wait too long to distinguish risk from opportunity, and will motivate you to take the appropriate action to avoid risk, or capitalize on opportunity.
4. “I never saved anything for the swim back”
Gattaca is one of my top ten movies of all time. In a memorable flashback scene, Ethan Hawk’s character swims into the ocean in a challenge of physical ability against his brother who is bigger and stronger. Suddenly, Hawk’s older brother gives up and starts sinking. He saves his brother by swimming back to shore, while keeping him above water. Back in the present, Hawk’s brother asks him how he did it, given his physical limitations and inferior strength, to which Hawk replies: “I never saved anything for the swim back.” A good mentor will help you see that planning for the future is necessary and good, but giving yourself a Plan B will prevent you from achieving true greatness. Leaving yourself with an escape route makes it easier to give up when things get really tough, which generally happens just before a major breakthrough. Your aspirational mentor will show you this, and guide you through making your Plan A work, rather than giving up and turning to a lesser Plan B.
I’m certain you can identify more surprising ways an aspirational mentor can help you, but these were the ones that stood out for me as I thought about my own mentors.