Linda Lewis Griffith

Looking for a mentor? Here are 6 things you need to know

We usually think of mentors in terms of education or the workplace.

A seasoned psychotherapist might advise a younger office mate about how to build her private practice. Or a trial attorney may offer to answer questions for a recent law school graduate.

But mentors are just as relevant in our personal lives.

For instance, a Scout leader might demonstrate how to be a good husband. We might watch an aunt strike a successful work/life balance. A neighbor can have a special knack for repairing things around his house.

The word mentor comes from the Greek “mentor,” meaning adviser.

The advice may be given formally, via lessons or Q and A. It may also be provided implicitly, through one’s actions and lifestyle.

Mentors are usually older, more experienced folks that younger people look up to. They’ve achieved a level of success after years of trial and error, and they’re eager to share their knowledge with someone just starting out.

But they can also be relative equals and still offer advice and inspiration to their cohorts.

It’s even possible that we don’t know we’re mentors.

A person may be watching and learning from us at a distant without ever acknowledging the impact we’re having on their choices or actions. This is especially common for youth workers, teachers or coaches who have direct contact with vast numbers of students yet never fully know the extent of their impact.

The mentoring relationship can vary in its length. Sometimes mentors and mentees work together for a specific amount of time, say one semester or during an internship. Others may be acquainted for decades, offering advice and receiving information.

My husband has been a terrific professional and personal role model for numerous young men, some he has known since the boys were in grade school.

The mentor/mentee relationship is unique for a host of reasons.

Mentees have someone they can discuss problems with, ask questions of or emulate. Mentors enjoy being valued, talking about what they do best and sharing wisdom with eager recipients.

Most importantly, the relationship is free from coercion. Everyone is a willing participant. Mentors aren’t responsible for their juniors’ ultimate success. And mentees show up on their own free will, knowing they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the partnership.

Looking for that just-right mentor? Consider these ideas:

Never compromise on character. Steer clear of mentors who are dishonest or criminal. No matter how successful they are in other areas, they’re not appropriate role models.

Focus your attention. Notice the characteristics you admire about the mentor. Then set about learning how to maximize those same traits in yourself.

Clarify the relationship with the mentor. Ask potential mentors if they’re willing to advise you and discuss what that might entail.

Be appreciative. Always be grateful for the mentor’s efforts on your behalf. Remember, they’re mentoring for your good, not theirs.

Have more than one. It’s perfectly acceptable to have more than one mentor. You’ll have more people to look up to and learn from.

Be willing to move on. There may come a time when you’ve learned all you can from one person. Graciously thank the mentor for their efforts. Then set about finding someone new.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a retired marriage, family and child therapist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at
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