Milles Studio

5 Things I've Learned From Finding (And Keeping) A Mentor

In New York City, hustling is half the game.

The only thing more difficult than paying rent on a writer's salary is navigating the professional shark tank. For that reason, finding a mentor was pretty high on my to-do list when I first moved to town.

When I first met my mentor in 2010, I was an intern. He'd run several lifestyle magazines I'd torn apart and plastered on my college dorm room walls, so meeting him was like getting an autograph from an idol. I took on all the assignments he dished out and kept my eye on how he navigated the industry.

One day, I tagged along to one of his speaking engagements for young black women. When he asked if I had any post-graduate advice for them, I rattled off an impromptu speech on how tough life after college can be, both financially and professionally.

That's the day we both knew he'd be taking me under his wing.

Since then, he's been my go-to for advice on juggling job offers and entrepreneurial projects. He's also there to share a drink with me on rough days.

What I appreciate -- possibly more than each piece of advice -- is that he's genuinely invested in seeing me succeed and remains my biggest advocate, even when I screw up an opportunity or flip out on a co-worker. He also encourages me when I lose confidence and want to hightail it out of NYC.

The experience of having a mentor has helped me keep pushing to the next level. For instance, I hate networking, but he taught me to meet at least three new need-to-know people at every industry event. That nugget of advice has allowed me to shake hands with both behind-the-scenes influencers and celebrities in the spotlight.

Much like grinding toward success, finding and maintaining a mentor takes a little research and a lot of hard work. But, the payoff is worth it.

Find someone you respect.

Once I set my sights on one particular magazine, I read up on key editors who'd climbed the ranks. After learning my mentor started his own magazine by the age of 25, I knew he had invaluable know-how to teach.

As fate would have it, we started at the office around the same time. I did everything in my power to get his advice, including asking an overwhelming amount of questions.

Let the relationship grow naturally.

I still have my mentor's magazines lined up on my bookshelf. Despite my inner fangirling, however, I allowed him to pass on his professional wisdom on his own terms.

I didn't beg to pick his brain or learn all his best-kept secrets. Instead, I stretched myself thin attempting to attend every event and do music research. I forced him to take notice of how serious I took this profession.

Mentorship is like easing into a relationship. Once a comfortable rapport is established, he or she will recognize the respect you have and the relationship will develop pretty smoothly.

Don't get hung up on your mentor's gender.

Early on, I was advised by some of my peers to find a female adviser to help me through the professional jungle gym.

Though having a solid circle of women on your side is pretty priceless, I prefer an older male's unfiltered insight. He never coddles me or feels like I'm too fragile for harsh criticism. He may not be able to stand with me in lady solidarity, but he's a straight shooter who helps me understand the male psyche.

Having a male mentor is by no means a "cool girl" complex. I consult women about my career moves, but I find the professional support of a man can help me enter doors otherwise shut (for now) to women.

Don't expect to be your mentor's BFF.

When my mentor texted me I was being "crazy" for calling myself fat, I knew we'd crossed the threshold from professional allies to more of a kinship.

But, not everyone can shoot his or her mentor a joke about Drake or relationships over Svedka shots. If you get to a place where your mentor dabs and you can openly make fun of him, take it as a blessing.

Keep in mind, some mentors only schedule once-a-month meet-ups and field phone calls. It works for some, just make sure it's the kind of relationship you want.

Balance your mentor's advice with your own judgement.

Your mentor is in your corner, offering advice about the right path. However, that shouldn't totally suspend your own intuition. Although I consider my mentor's take wholeheartedly, I balance his views with my own judgement.

My mentor noticed my large, opinionated personality, but appreciated how I backed it up.

That's not to say I won't hear him out if I'm frustrated. As a person who's navigated the dog-eat-dog business of media, he knows his stuff.

Bottom line? I proved I was worth his professional investment. Sniff out who you feel should take a chance on you and be strategic. It's the best professional play you'll ever make.

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