Stop looking for a mentor

Sheryl Sandberg Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg - 'Lean In'

“I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty," which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after."

(Although this quote from her book relates to women, the same remains true for men. We’ve gotten the idea that a ‘mentor’ is the answer to our academic and career woes)

When I first heard this statement, it felt ‘wrong’! I didn’t agree with it. Mentors are helpful, right?!

Then I read the book, and thought more about it, and TOTALLY agree with her. So I’m giving you the abbreviated version. (You’re welcome!)

Is a mentor a 'must-have' for you?

Tip #1

There is no Prince Charming. There aren’t enough mentors to go around. Thus, you need to find an alternative way to get the same benefits.

You need to be more active in your search for solutions.

Sheryl Sandberg’s quote about ‘Don’t look for mentors’, was not about questioning the value of a mentor. They are HUGELY valuable. 

Her discussion revolves around the REALITY that for ALL the students, young professionals and people building their careers out there… there are JUST NOT ENOUGH mentors to go around. This means we need to have an alternative solution.

Also, the ‘push’ and the PR around how valuable mentors are, have started making students and young professionals out there feel that a mentor is a must-have in their career recipe.

Without realising it, this means that a lot of people are waiting for something ‘magical’ to pop up and solve their problems. “I don’t have a mentor, so I won’t be able to reach my dreams”(Hence the ‘Prince Charming’ reference in Sheryl’s quote)

It can also mean that people subconsciously push full accountability onto someone else. We’re waiting for someone else to tell us what the right thing is to do, instead of making the decision ourselves. Decisions are fully yours, right or wrong! That’s scary!

Blunt Truth - Most students want 'free personalised counselling'

Tip #2

If you don’t like ‘blunt truths’, then don’t get a mentor.

The experience I have with most students is that they want someone else to hand them all the info they need, as they need it, tell them what decision to make, all personalised specifically for them.

If you really want to grow, you have to search for, and READ insights, and figure out what’s right for you.

Prove me wrong. Read this full article 😉

How do I know that students aren’t prepared to ‘help themselves’?

I get TONS of messages from students asking me questions when the answer is already on my blog, or another site (generally the entrance requirements for a university!). It’s a sure-fire indication that they’re too lazy to look for an answer (or worse, click on the link that was actually provided!)

Students always tell me they want career development insight, they want to ‘grow’, be exposed to their future career. BUT… The statistics on my site clearly indicate that the only articles they read are those about ‘how to pass their exams’. Career insight posts are mostly ignored.

When I provide information, free courses, links, or emails on the info students ‘say’ they want… most students don’t open the mails, click on the links, follow the instructions, or complete more than 20% of the free course. (I can see the stats!)

Statistically, most students spend 1 minute on ANY post, article, video, insight etc on my site. There’s no WAY they’ve gotten the information they need, or read the full article.

This isn’t a personal ‘rant’ at you 🙂 It’s to make you really think about what help you’re looking for, and what you’re genuinely prepared to do to get it!


What are you actually looking for?

Tip #3

Identify EXACTLY what help you need. And make it short-term. Ie: “I need xxx advice for this semester or decision”, rather than “I need help for the rest of my studies / life / career”.

You’re more likely to get an answer from someone if you ask them a ‘bite-sized’ question. Something specific for what you need right now.

I get emails and messages from students on a daily basis, asking for me to be their mentor. 

I understand how incredibly tough any qualification journey is, so any help and insight is hugely valued. However, I always wonder exactly what students think I’m going to do for them? 

I’m not sure they actually know themselves. Other than the fact that they ‘need help’ and are looking for someone they trust, or see as a role model, what are they expecting to ‘get’?

Before you reach out, break down what you’re looking for, and frame one question. (But, for heaven’s sake, NOT a question like “Do you think I can be a Chartered Accountant?”)

Be prepared to hunt for the answers first. If you indicate to the person that you’ve already done some research or thinking, but still can’t find an answer, they respect you more, and are more likely to help. 

As a professional, having someone send you an open-ended question (ie: one that takes a million years to answer), while it’s obvious they’ve just blurted out the question without effort on their part, is truly annoying. And whatever you ask, try make sure their response can be given in five minutes. If you’re expecting half an hour of their time, for free, that’s rude!

Find more than one person. There are loads of different types of insights and information out there, and this way, you won’t make that one poor person ‘block’ you! 

Mentorships are relationships

Tip #4

Based on Tip#3, you can start to build an informal relationship with the person whose given you an answer. This is a two-way street. Give-and-take. A conversation. (ie: Don’t throw questions at them every week like an interrogation)

Asking someone for their time ‘for free’ can be pretty rude. Respect their time. Building an informal, non-needy, interaction can be helpful and achieve your needs.

Relationships, and mentorships, takes time to build trust, an understanding of eachother, challenges, needs, strengths and weaknesses. It also takes regular interaction. Not to mention that relationships are also built on a ‘chemistry’ between two people. If they don’t ‘click’, especially for something this personal… it’s not helpful.

There are not a lot of professionals out there who have the time and mental space (or skills!) to take on this type of relationship. Especially not for free! 

Unless there’s a formal mentoring programme, you’re probably not going to find strangers who will commit to this type of thing. Especially on an open-ended basis.

This does not mean sending random “Hi, how are you today?” messages. These annoy me. I don’t have time for a ‘chat’, and you’re not my friend, nor a paying customer. Tell me the point of your message. 

If the person has posted an article, update, or has some public information, then you can comment on it, or message them to comment on this. This indicates that you’re interested in what they do, beyond JUST what they can do for you. (It’s also called networking!)

It starts creating an two-way, informal engagement that you can build on. You’re not asking for a ‘commitment’, so the person doesn’t feel that you want them to feel obliged to be there for you.

Blunt Truth - Are you looking for a therapist?

Tip #5

Mentors don’t make you ‘feel’ better. They push you, challenge you, and ‘force’ you to face your weaknesses. They don’t ‘baby’ people, they expect you to ‘do the work’ and push yourself.

They provide insight, but they’re not going to run after you.

If you know me at ALL, you’ll know that I’m honest, even if it sometimes seems harsh. Hearing what we ‘want’ to hear, and only the warm / fuzzy stuff that makes us ‘feel better’, isn’t how we grow, and if you’re not prepared to be challenged on your weak areas, then don’t bother looking for a mentor.

Honestly, most students who contact me, are looking for someone who ‘understands’ their situation, challenges, stresses and makes them feel better about all this. They want someone to listen to their journey, to ‘tell them what to do next’ and hold them accountable for their goals, and give them assurance that they’ll be ok. “Do you think I’ll make it?”; “Do you think this is for me?”; “Do you think that I should keep going?”

The truth about mentors? They’re not therapists. They’re not going to listen to your life story, and even if they do, professionals don’t have ‘counselling’ skills, so there’s not much help they can give you. They don’t have time, or mental space, to take on someone else’s emotional lives and struggles.  

Mentors will spend time making you realise the next challenge, point out what you’re not seeing, so you can work on the next skill. They’ll discuss it, and expect you to go away, apply it, think on it, and do whatever you need with it. If you choose not to do that, they’re not likely to run after you and beg you to do it. 

If you can’t hold yourself accountable, or stick to your goals, that shows a lack of discipline. No professional is going to ‘fix’ that for you, nor do they want to ‘baby’ someone who can’t stick to commitments.

Sure, it’s challenging, and they’ll support you, but they’re not holding your hand to drag you to do something that’s actually only for your benefit!

If you’re asking questions, then be prepared to hear answers you might not like. Students often complain to me if I post anything that’s not warm and fuzzy. Here’s what that says to me: “We only want to hear stuff that makes me feel good about myself, not anything that’s going to challenge us, or make us aware of something that’s important for our own career.”

How can I help you?

I really do care!

I do what I do because I really care. I wish I could help every student out there, but it’s totally not possible.

Students: I’ve included the stuff I mentor my students on in my Study Coaching Course.

Trainees: I’ve included the stuff I mentor trainees in my “Trainee Course”

(Nope, they’re not free. I also have bills to pay!)

I’ve run this site for years, to try provide insights and help to students, and I appreciate every student who’s ever gotten value from any of it. 

The qualification journey is tough, any help is appreciated. So I do what I can, and I’m thrilled that it helps.

There has never been more information online, in books, courses etc available on any topic! I generally try summarise and point you to stuff that’s relevant for you. Take the 5 minutes to read the full thing. 😉

Some of my information is ‘happy’ and motivational, and some of it is designed to push you, make you think of things that I know, based on my experience, that you need to think about.  

I’m not here to make you ‘feel’ better, I’m here to help raise your awareness and assist you with skills and insights that you need exposure to, and no one else is taking the time to tell you. 

In order to reach as many students as possible, I make courses that include the stuff I spend time with students on. This means I can reach 100 students instead of just one.

I will continue to do everything I can for students, of course!

At this point, the best I can do is help you get the same benefits from mentoring, without the actual mentor!


Latest Articles


Recent Posts

  • CTA study prep webinarNeed help with your CTA Final Exam prep?

    SAICA’s review of ITC Jan 2019: “What did students struggle with?”
    If you’re studying CTA, note what SAICA wants you to be able to do when you write ITC, ie: what should you be able to do to pass CTA?

    Then, ask yourself whether this is what you’re working on? Are you making these mistakes? […]