Think for a moment about the big creative dreams that make you feel amazing. Are you writing? Painting? Making abundant money from selling your creative work to an enthusiastic audience? Perhaps you sigh and think about why you aren't there yet. Maybe you have some fears or concerns that are getting in your way. Maybe you saw someone else succeed at cost to their family or health.
This is where mentorship comes in. It's very hard to do something that we've never seen anyone else do. Creative success on your terms becomes easier to achieve in direct proportion to the number of people in your life who are modeling the kind of success you desire.
Yet it's quite rare to have these models around you naturally. If you, say, you grew up in a family of rock stars, and you want to be a rock star, you are very lucky. Rock stardom will come much easier to you than to someone who has only seen rock stars from the mosh pit.
Most of us need to do a little bit of (fun) work to create mentorship in our lives. It's pretty easy.
I've boiled it down to three steps.
1. Find some hot models to look at.
No, not the Victoria's Secret kind, unless you aspire to design lingerie or walk the runway. Find people in your creative sphere who are on fire - whose success you want to emulate. You probably already have someone in mind, perhaps the person who inspired your to get into your field in the first place.
2. Do more research.
Often the first people who come to mind, upon closer inspection, don't have exactly the kind of success you'd like. Say there's an artist who's work you L-O-V-E, but you discover that he's deeply depressed and drinks heavily. That's probably not a lifestyle you see as optimal for yourself. So look for artists who are successful, happy, and healthy. They aren't hard to find once you scratch through the surface of the cultural stereotype of the drunk, depressed writer or artist.
Follow these folks you find on Twitter, bookmark their websites, and support their work in any way you can. Read up on anything you can find about the way they get the work done while maintaining a happy, balanced life. Soak in their example until what they've achieved starts to seem normal and do-able to you. Even if you never meet them, their example can do wonders for your own career.
3. Connect to a mentor.
Ideally, you connect to a mentor and build a supportive friendship so that you can learn directly from someone whose example you'd like to follow. However, in the real world, it's not always possible to build a friendship with someone who may be in another country or simply too busy to take on a new protege. In these cases, your mentor can be a coach or simply a supportive person in your life who is willing to listen, encourage you, and be consistently positive about your ideas and goals. A good coach or mentor is someone who asks about how your creative work is going and helps you stay excited, motivated, and laser focused on the next step to take in the direction of your dreams.
Here are some good guidelines to keep in mind as you communicate with a mentor.
- There's no need to use the word "mentor" until your relationship is well established and has lasted years. It's a serious word and using it too early is kind of like proposing marriage on the first date.
- You may want to consider paying to be part of a mentorship program or hiring a coach who has helped other people achieve results similar to what you desire in your life. This is true especially if you work from home or work alone a lot, as those conditions make it harder to mix with people in your industry.
- If possible, make contact with more than one mentor and make sure you mention it to your other mentors. Some of my best mentee experiences have resulted by my letting a mentor know that I'm also working with another brilliant mind in the industry/area. It helps the mentor know that you are making connections and are ambitiously pursuing excellence.
- You job is to ask questions and listen. Don't use a mentor's time to complain; instead, ask for his or her advice about challenges you are facing and then give them an update about that challenge next time you meet.
Finally, here's an example email template you can use to reach out to someone you admire. Make sure you customize it to your voice and personality.
I'm a big admirer of your _________ and you inspire me especially in the way you ____________, _____________ all while _____________. (Specific qualities you've noticed.)
I'm a writer/artist/creator myself, and I'd love to know more about how you _______________________. Specifically, ______(One specific question they can answer in 5 minute or less.)
Thanks for being such an inspiration.
If you get a response, feel free to send more brief questions. Be yourself and be ready to think creatively about how you can make their advice work for you.