Luke Skywalker has Yoda; the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi; Bilbo, Gandalf; Neo, Morpheus; the Ninja Turtles, Splinter. What epic story hero does not first have a master to expertly shape and train them?
While your college training may not involve catching a fly with chopsticks or learning to do the limbo under midair bullets, a mentor can still provide training and insight beyond what you can develop for yourself. Unfortunately, the idea of apprenticeship is largely lost today. Often, a college education is much too focused on classes, concepts, and grades; consequently, we can easily lose sight of ‘training’ future professionals. Mike Rowe comments on keeping these concepts in balance, “There’s this constant balance that goes on between the definition of a good job and our understanding of a truly valuable education. Not all knowledge comes from college, but not all skills come from degrees.”*
“There’s this constant balance that goes on between the definition of a good job and our understanding of a truly valuable education. Not all knowledge comes from college, but not all skills come from degrees.”
– Mike Rowe
Finding a mentor during your formative college years, then, can be extremely beneficial to you, and to your mentor! Below are 6 quick benefits and applications of developing a mentoring relationship in college.
1. It’s all about perspective
Your mentor is different from you, and this is good. Your mentor is likely be a different age, from a different state or country, possibly different sex, and with many, many different life experiences. When discussing life and professional application of your studies, your mentor can provide new lenses to peer through to see multiply angles not easily realized on your own. When looking to the future, your mentor will be able to give you an idea of what is coming and what external factors may have an effect on your budding career. Choose a mentor that is not exactly the same as you but is in a professional field that aligns with your future career.
2. Precise advice versus careful wisdom
What has 30 more years, 30,000 less hairs, and always precise advice? A bad mentor. What has the same while exchanging precise advice for careful wisdom? A great mentor. A good mentor will provide wisdom and insight to help guide you and allow you to make excellent decisions for yourself instead of just telling you what he or she would do. A good mentor will know when to speak and when to keep silent. Seek out a mentor that will allow you to learn for yourself all the while guiding you through each learning experience.
3. Get by with a little help
Let’s face it, sometimes life is tough. We will all need a little boost now and then. There is no shame in asking for help or encouragement. Our culture likes to portray strength in self-sufficiency, but no one on the earth is truly self-sufficient. A mentor can provide you with a safe relationship where you can be free to express your struggles in college and receive encouragement. Whether overwhelmed with a particular assignment or questioning which direction your future career is going, your mentor will be able to help you get back off the couch. Look for a mentor that you trust and feel comfortable expressing your academic and professional trials.
NOTE: A college mentor is not your psychologist or relationship counselor, so don’t dump your boyfriend problems on them!! Joking aside, leave personal issues outside of your mentoring relationship; not doing so can easily cross a boundary between you and your mentor. This leaves your mentor in a very difficult spot professionally and sometimes legally, so please be careful!
4. Connections – magical and otherwise
We love mentorship stories in books, plays, and movies because of the special connection between student and master. There seems to be magic and love-like understanding between the two that transcends common human interaction. Hopefully, your mentoring relationship will be this and more! But, mentoring can also be extremely practical. Your mentor likely has more connections than you do, so use them to your advantage! Can your mentor land you an awesome internship for the summer or work study during the semester? Can your mentor setup meetings for you to meet key people in specific industries that interest you? Would your mentor be willing to connect you with other professors at the university to expand your quiver of resources? Don’t be shy, most mentors love to make connections and see you succeed!
5. Friendship – there is no other kind of ship I’d rather be on
When you enter college, you are probably more interested in meeting everyone in your dorm room and then as soon as possible meeting everyone in the dorm room of the opposite sex. You are most likely less interested in making good friends with a professor 20 or 30 years your senior. But, as mentoring relationships grow, they often develop into treasured friendships. Best of all, your friendship does not have to end when you graduate! Our time is always well spent developing healthy friendships; indeed, a mentor is a more beneficial friendship to pursue than the guy in room 235 that is always asking you if you want to ‘party’ on Friday night. Again, be careful about boundaries with your budding relationship. You do not want to overstep the current boundaries of the mentoring relationship and hinder future growth!
6. Learn what’s not taught in class
Remember how your mentor is likely older, more mature, differently wired and experienced than you? Well, sometimes, it can be a challenge to connect with persons different than you, especially for young adults. Interacting with your mentor on a regular basis will allow you much practice in presenting yourself as an adult in a professional setting. When I was a young man aspiring to achieve an Eagle Scout Award, I had to pass an interview with several different leaders of the Scouting counsel in the greater Atlanta area. Unfortunately, I had never been in that situation before. I did not know how to present myself professionally, and I paid dearly for it when I did not pass my interview! I had a lot of catching up to do. You do not want this to be you when you walk into your first job interview after college! Hone your personal skills as a professional during college when you meet with your mentor. Let him or her guide you in interacting with all types of professionals whether younger or older, similar or different, higher or lesser paid. You will stand out among your peers immediately in your first job!