By Kevin Eikenberry
Most of us, at one time or another have looked to someone more experienced or expert than us to help us navigate through a difficult challenge or situation. Whether formal or informal, we’ve had these sorts of relationships throughout our lives.
Sometimes these relationships have happened serendipitously – we start a new job and meet someone that helps us be more successful with the job or in the company.
Sometimes we find mentors based on a person’s position – we look to a minister, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader to help us in times of grief or confusion. At yet other times we seek out a mentor because we have noticed a person’s behaviors, skills or knowledge and know that they could help us be happier, healthier or more productive.
All of these are natural and effective ways to find a mentor. But these strategies limit us in terms of the mentoring we can receive. Contrary to popular belief and practice, we don’t have to meet or have a conversation with our mentor in order to benefit from their guidance. In fact, our mentors don’t even have to be alive.
While we may have many people we look to as mentors, I’m sure there has been times that the person whose wise advice and counsel you’d like to benefit from is far away or no longer living. This could be the person who gave you your first job, a particular teacher or coach, a parent or grandparent, or anyone you looked up to and respected.
When you want to get the guidance and insight of someone you can’t talk to, ask yourself the questions below. All of these questions require you to use your memory and to make some guesses – but your guesses will be educated ones based on your experience and knowledge of the person you are thinking about.
Let go of any concerns you have about the answers being perfect – just answer them and use the answers. In the process of asking and answering, you will be surprised at how much you will learn.
What did they do? You may wish you could talk to someone because they went through a situation similar to the one you are facing. If that is the case, spend some time thinking about the choices they made and the outcomes they experienced – even if their outcomes weren’t as desirable as the ones you hope to get.
By reviewing their experience second hand, you may get some ideas of the mentoring you would receive from them, even though they aren’t there personally.
What would they do? Maybe you don’t know if they faced a situation similar to yours. If not, you can still think about how they might have approached the situation or opportunity, how they would have thought about it, and what actions they might have taken.
Thinking your situation through from their perspective can provide you with insight and ideas to consider before you move forward.
What would they say? Have the conversation in your mind that you wish you could have. Think about where you might have this conversation – the setting and associated sights and sounds. Then talk to them in your imagination – explaining your situation or asking some questions.
After you’ve “talked” quiet your mind and listen. Think about what you think they might have said. Allow yourself to hypothesize. Let your intuition tell you what they might have said. Then, just as if the person were right next to you in conversation, you can use their advice or counsel in whatever way is most useful to you.
What can I learn from who there were? You don’t have to start with the more direct questions you’ve already read, and you don’t even have to start with a specific situation in mind. Sit down at your computer or with your journal and make a list of the habits, behaviors and experiences of the person you wish to “mentor in memory.”
This can be the things you admired most about the person, their idiosyncrasies, their habits and tendencies; anything you can think of. It should be anything and everything about them. Spend some time with this list, but leave room to add to and supplement it in the future.
As you think of new things to add to your list, go back and add them. Then, when you wished you could talk with the person, read over your notes. As you read, ask yourself what you can learn from their example, as well as using your review as a great thing to do before you ask yourself the other three questions above.
This approach may seem unorthodox to you – perhaps you have never thought of those who you can no longer speak to as possible mentors. Often these important yet unavailable people may be the perfect mentor for you in a given situation.
Use the questions above and you can gain the benefit of their wise counsel, even if you can’t speak to them face to face or on the phone.