If you have been following my work, then you know how important mentors are to success. You have probably heard the phrase, “its not what you know, but who.” I think there is a lot of truth to that statement. I also think if you are trying to live your best life you need to embrace both. Make sure you know your stuff and learn from people that can help you.
Our first mentors are almost always our parents or whomever filled that role. The impact of caring and attentive parents or guardians is overwhelmingly positive. Is there a better example that illustrates the importance of mentors? Many of the high achievers of the world came from single parent households, but I would argue that few of them had no parental figures in their developing years. Even fewer of them remained without a mentor in their adult life.
But isn’t independence the whole point of being a ‘functioning adult?’ I would argue that ‘functioning’ has a flexible definition and that self-reliance is importance as a matter of principle but should only be exercised when absolutely necessary. Consider the impact of trade on the world economy. There are a few nations that could be completely independent and produce all the required food, material and energy it needs for millions of citizens. However, if every country were to do that the world economy would collapse and billions would suffer and possible starve. There are times when self-reliance is required and as mature individuals, we should always be ready for those moments. But they are not the rule and independence should never be confused with isolation.
It is easy to believe we are exceptional. By that, I mean it’s easy to convince ourselves that the normal rules don’t apply to us. A good mentor will dissuade you of these myths. It is also easy to assume the you know the rules, which is another mistake a mentor can prevent. Life is a remarkably complex endeavor and we navigate the chaos in order to achieve our ambitions. Mentors are experienced pilots that point out the shallows that threaten to sink you and can help you through those moments when there is no wind in your sails.
So, the question is, how many mentors should I have? The short answer is, as many as you need. You should ask yourself what want, what are you are trying to achieve? When you ask this question, the answer could be any combinations of words and ambitions, but they should always be centered on living well. Happiness is probably a little too metaphysical and difficult to define and doesn’t usually work well as a goal. There is an unwritten rule in cycling that applies to most other forms of travel: you will go wherever you are looking. If you are ripping down a steep mountain trail and can’t keep your eyes off the tree at the bottom, you will head straight to the tree until it’s too late to adjust and you either bail or hit the tree. If you keep your eyes on the path, you turn without thinking about it. With happiness, the opposite tends to happen. If you are looking for happiness it will never come. So focus on things that are measurable.
Another word of caution is to keep your goals S.M.A.R.T. That is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. If your goals aren’t smart, there is no amount of mentoring that will help you achieve them. A mentor is someone that holds you accountable, and you both need to be on the same page of the logbook. There are many aspects of life that could use a mentor beyond career. You should consider having a spiritual mentor, someone that can walk you through physical endeavors, even your hobbies could require some older, experienced advice.
These are the parameters that determine how many mentors you should have. What you are trying to do and how can someone else help you. Can you have to many? Of course you can! Do you need another? Maybe you do. There isn’t a prime number of mentors, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that one is not enough.
Mentors are people that help you live well. The ones that help you live your best life. If you find the right ones, it will make all the difference.