when you are defining who you are professionally and determining what is truly important to you, it is invaluable to have other perspectives. This is particularly true for women and minorities, who historically have experienced a more difficult time succeeding by the rules. One way to crack the code is to find a mentor who is part of the establishment.
My mother was my first personal mentor. My first workplace mentor was a member of senior management at a former employer of mine. She is the one who first planted the seed about my becoming a general counsel. I had not thought about that possibility. She asked, “Why not?” I did not have a compelling response. The exchanges I had with her caused me to reassess how I saw myself. She exemplified the key characteristics of a good mentor—a willingness to challenge and not accept half-baked excuses.
Some of my best mentors have been people most unlike me. I gained different insights from them because their experiences were not like mine. Also, we learned from each other, which is another benefit of a successful mentoring relationship.
One of the best ways I can honor those who took the time to know, grow, and challenge me is to “pay it forward.” As a result, I have mentored many individuals. I have a few words of wisdom for those I mentor: First, don’t be afraid to take risks. Second, be true to yourself and your values. Third, treat time as the limited resource that it is. Mark Twain once remarked that 20 years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. Fourth, do not defeat yourself. This advice was best captured by a Frenchman who said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” And finally, give back in any way you can.
My advice is rather simple. Find your mentors everywhere you go. Don’t wait for them to find you. And when someone reaches out to you for advice, be open, and “pay it forward.”