An opinion piece for entrepreneurs and young lawyers
My #1 piece of advice for any business owner in any field, or professional in any occupation? Find a mentor.
I’ve been so blessed to have the mentor that I had in my life. Never underestimate the power of having a mentor, or building a network. On mentorship, specifically: in my opinion, finding a mentor, no matter your occupation, is crucial to your success as a business owner. . . it all boils down to this: We all have something to learn from one another, and a mentor can be one of the best sounding boards available to you as a business owner. Success in a mentoring relationship comes not from producing copies, but in helping people flourish in their own gifts and talents. It allows a mentor to teach, to empower them to take risks, to push them to stretch and grow, and tap into their untapped potential. . . Your mentor doesn’t have to be in your field. In fact, a strong argument could be made that it benefits both parties if you’re in parallel fields. I met my mentor when I worked for him years ago, and although I’ve skipped around from working in house corporate positions, to small and large firms, to my own, we’ve stayed incredibly close- so close, in fact, that he was the first to show up in a (literal) hospital-required hazmat suit when I landed myself in the hospital on NYE with both a broken spine and the flu. .
Entrepreneurs in particular are hard-wired, in a sense, to eschew asking for help from others in our industry (from my experience). Much could be said about this topic, but I’d hazard a guess that this is largely due to the fact that as entrepreneurs, we had to throw out the “road map” a long time ago; as we all know, there’s no guidebook to running a startup. And at times, we can allow competition in our competitive markets cloud our judgement when it comes to reaching out and building those vital relationships within our own industries. However, while it can feel counterintuitive, or like a waste of our (nonexistent) time, we should never shut ourselves off, or overlook the importance of cultivating a true network. It doesn’t matter if you feel like the “only one” in your industry- a network’s out there.
There are three common misconceptions when discussing mentorship:
I challenge this thinking. The mentors who have taught me the most have ranged from lawyers, to veterinarians, to football coaches. You never know the gains you can achieve by opening up to the change of perspective other industries bring.
2. That acting as someone’s mentor means creating a “mini me” replication of the mentor
A productive mentor-mentee relationship requires the former guiding the latter along their occupational trail, allowing them to simply become more of who they already are. Speaking from the legal industry, specifically, there is a pre-conceived, societally-built notion of what “success” is defined as. If my own mentor only instructed me to keep “climbing the rungs of the ladder” laid out in front of every young lawyer, our relationship would absolutely not be what it would be what it is today, nor would I gain nearly as much wisdom from his advice. You don’t have to agree on everything; different viewpoints just produce richer conversations. A mentor’s role is to help expose the mentee to a different angle, a different perspective, empowering them to ask smarter questions, take calculated risks, and, hopefully, release untapped potential. In the end, a mentoring relationship should be a springboard, catapulting the mentee further, and with a richer perspective, than if they had travelled the path alone.
3. The mentor-mentee relationship remains in that hierarchy.
The more free-thinking, risk-taking, challenger that a mentor can help a mentee become (again, releasing their untapped potential), the logic follows that the mentee will continue to grow. His or her experiences will naturally vary in some way, shape, or form from the mentor, and you never know when the roles can become reversed, providing the same virtues back to the mentor.
Law students reading this blog in particular: this is one of (if not THE) most critical uses of the networking opportunities that your university provides to you. Only later will you realize the extraordinary opportunity that networking events provide for your future career. Put yourself out there, get as many internships as you can, cultivate as many relationships as you can, and nurture those relationships.