If you’re at all like me—and if you are, you don’t want to talk about how hard the table games at Cracker Barrel really are—you probably have some questions about finding a mentor.
The Power of a MEN-TOR
First, is it possible to even say the word “mentor” without realizing that it sounds like a He-Man/Conan the Barbarian rip-off toy from the 1980s? Of course not.
MEN-TOR. As a child, he was exposed to near-lethal doses of unconditional love, encouragement, and boundaries, giving him superhuman emotional strength and powers of spiritual discipline. Now, with his trusty sidekick, Associate Pastor, he guards the long lost secrets to life stability, wise choices, and godly maturity. MEN-TOR.
The action figure would just be a ripped dude in slacks and a cardigan holding a coffee mug, with a button in the back to activate his kung fu journaling ability and special catchphrase, “Let’s unpack that a little.”
Time to Change the Radio Station
Another good question is, “What exactly is a mentor?” A helpful working definition is this: as a typical young adult American, your life currently is like a Pandora station which, no matter what you’ve tried, plays nothing but Kesha 24/7. A mentor is the only person who knows how to get your station to play some classical music.
Thus, the goal of a mentor-mentee relationship is to change the Kesha-to-Bach ratio of your life, figuratively and, in some very specific mentoring relationships, literally.
Mentors: A Scarce Breed
Which brings us to our final question: “How do I locate these majestic beasts known as mentors?” This is a very good question. You may or may not have noticed this, but actual mature people over the age of 35 are an incredibly scarce breed. According to the Department of Wildlife, only 61 are left in all of North America.
You can tell who they are because they all have a little yellow tag on their ear so that the government can monitor and protect them. That one? That’s Paul. He’s really an amazing creature. We’ve been observing him ever since he left his family unit and found a stable job that he doesn’t resent for not being “fun.” We observe him and step in if he ever gets into trouble. One time he wandered into a rave by mistake, so we tranquilized him and moved him to a PTA meeting. Watch—he’s balancing his checkbook now. Spectacular.
What would be helpful is an app that buzzed whenever a mature person was near you so you could see their location on Google maps and chase them down. An app like this already exists for dating purposes, but my sense is that if you use an app like that, you probably actually need a mentor more.
In absence of an app, here are five tips that, while not guaranteeing success, will help your chances of finding a mentor.
1. Know your need.
First, ask yourself a few questions:
Where am I looking to grow in maturity and wisdom? In a specific area, like finances, health, parenting skills, or work performance? Or something general, like overall adult life or spiritual growth?
Am I looking for something short-term or for someone to walk with me for a longer season?
Before you do anything, identify the places in your life where you’re most hungry for outside guidance and wisdom. Write them down. Probe them, pray about them, and prioritize them. This will help you know not just what kind of mentoring you want but also the kind of mentor you’re looking for.
2. Look around.
Truth bomb: Bigfoot sightings can never happen with your eyes closed. Likewise, if you want to find a mentor, you have to keep your eyes open. Scan your surroundings:
extended network (etc.)
Keep a mental shortlist of people who really seem to know what they’re doing in the areas that you want to be mentored in. And be observant; intentionally, patiently start noting as much data as you can about how others handle life.
3. Acknowledge the vulnerability involved.
Asking someone if they’ll mentor you is a weirdly vulnerable question, on par with asking someone out on a date. Maybe it’s because the subtext of the question is so honest: “I don’t know what I’m doing. Can you help me?” Acknowledging that vulnerability helps prep you to overcome it when you’ve located the perfect candidate and are ready to ask. Which leads us to . . .
Yeah, you’ll have to ask. Mentors are powerful creatures, but they aren’t mind-readers, so you generally can’t count on someone to decipher your brainwaves and ask if they can be your mentor.
But asking doesn’t have to be weird. Done confidently and well, it’s flattering for them. Hey, I’ve noticed you seem to have your stuff together in Area X or Life Pursuit Y. That’s really cool. Did that come naturally for you or did you work at it? I’d like to grow in that area and you seem like someone who could help me. Would you be interested?
5. Get creative.
Mentoring doesn’t have to be just you and another person chatting over Starbucks. Be creative. Get a couple of friends together for some group mentoring. If one mentor is willing but doesn’t have the time, propose a co-mentoring situation with someone else. Or pick a favorite author, read all their books, and act like they’re your mentor. (Have you tried Eugene Peterson? Try Eugene Peterson.)
Mentoring’s structure is fluid and can look like whatever you need it to. If a preconceived notion is stopping you, reconceive it differently and roll with it.
The Difference a Mentor Makes
If you have a willing heart and an able guide, mentoring can be one of the most valuable experiences of the Christian life. The apostle Paul mentored a young believer named Timothy and eventually said of him, “I have no one like him . . .” (Philippians 2:22), which is a glimpse into the spiritual maturity possible if you have the right mentor beside you.