Harry Potter had Dumbledore. Katniss and Peeta had Haymitch (when he wasn’t drunk). Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yes, some of our favorite protagonists owe their success to some pretty awesome coaches and teachers.
Have you noticed that movie mentors all share a lot of the same characteristics? For some reason they always seem to be an older man surrounded by an air of mystery and rocking more than the average amount of facial hair… But in real-life, mentors don’t tend to be so cookie-cutter.
Sure, it’s common to find a mentor in a teacher, professor, or boss at work, but we can also learn from coworkers and friends. We collected a few stories from the AfterCollege crew about our mentors and wanted to share the results with you.
They’ve taught us tangible skills, like carpentry, and things that are a little harder to pin down, like how to be open and honest about who we are. Read on for some good vibes—and maybe an idea of how to seek out your own mentor (beard optional).
Giving Props to My Profs
“I had a couple of professors in college that I would consider mentors. We just clicked. They taught classes that I was very interested in (History) and I came to respect them not only as teachers, but as individuals who challenged me to learn to think for myself. We talked outside of the classroom about world news and my place in the world. Their guidance helped me to decide my future academics and I like to believe it also helped me to develop into the person I am today.”
-Annette Perry, Accounting Manager
I Learned How to Be Me
“My mentor is Richard Alvarez. I worked for him in Undergraduate Admissions at Pace University. I was a closeted and deeply in denial gay man. I had a distorted image of what a gay person should be like and I knew that was not who I was. When Richard hired me as a student aid, I realized I met the person who would point me in the right direction. He was a strong and professional Director of Admissions. He had the respect of all his peers. Although he was openly gay and happily partnered, it only defined part of him. He showed me how to be a confident professional in every aspect of my life, no matter what I chose to do. Most importantly, I learned how to be me. After I graduated from college he offered me a full Counselor position at Pace but said I needed to follow my heart and move to California like I planned. He didn’t believe in having regrets if you can help it.”
-Javier Suazo, University Relations
He Helped Me Build My Career—Literally
“I joined a startup in 1998. My boss, besides being a businessman, was an accomplished carpenter. He invited our team over to his house the first weekend before our start date to build our own desks for our new office. We all thought he was nuts. It turns out you learn a lot about people and team dynamics building desks from scratch. By the end of the weekend he had sized us each up and shared some helpful insights to how we would be successful individually and as a team. We hit the ground running in week one and it felt like I’d been working with my teammates for months. It was inspirational.”
-Steve Girolami, VP of Engineering
It’s Cool to Be Casual
“I feel like we all learn from our coworkers, but I would definitely say Carrie McCullagh is my mentor. We both started out at AfterCollege around the same time (summer 2005), though I was a very green college intern and she was the Manager of Client Services. After working closely with her over the years she’s of course taught me a ton, but the #1 thing is how to communicate effectively, and that it’s okay to be casual. Being on the phone was always a challenge for me, so treating the person on the other end of the line as just that, a person, and not someone intimidating like a ‘$90k client’ made it much easier. Some of my best and longest-running employer relationships are with those where I’ve emulated Carrie’s friendly and comfortable approach and have just had conversations with instead of ‘presentations.’”
- Elizabeth Rodriguez, Senior Client Services Campaign Manager
It’s All in the Cards
“I had a friend and coworker I met while working on the editorial team of a magazine in Tokyo. We were the same age, but she had more experience working as a freelancer. She wanted to help me get my freelance career off the ground, so she made business cards for me that had my name and contact details and said “Writer/Editor.” (Business cards are especially important in Japan because you exchange them with pretty much anyone you meet in even a remotely business-like setting.) I don’t know if I actually got any gigs directly because of the business cards, but they gave me the confidence to pursue writing and editing opportunities and establish myself as a freelancer.”
- Melissa Suzuno, Content Marketing Specialist
Homework time! Still not convinced you need a mentor? Check out our recommended reading/watching list:
- Richard Branson, “The Importance of Mentoring”
- Sheryl Sandberg on Finding a Mentor, 60 Minutes Overtime
- Sylvia Ann Hewlett “Mentors are Good. Sponsors Are Better.” The New York Times
- Jenny Blake, “The Best Way to Thank a Mentor” Life After College
P.S. Do you have a mentor in your life? How did you meet? What has he or she taught you? Share your story in the comments!