This article originally appeared in Fast Company on January 31, 2023.
We entered January with all sorts of promises and resolutions — and the enthusiasm of a thousand Labrador puppies. But alas, reality has already set in. Our calendars have filled up, and our eyes are still glazing over from staring at our screens for eight hours straight.
So, how can we possibly find the time to think about and advance our careers, let alone help others, when the daily hustle-bustle of life gets in the way? Where, exactly, are we headed in this journey? And who can help us get there? The right mentor or mentors can be key to making our life road map more legible.
Finding someone who can guide you for the long haul is not always realistic. So, instead of taking an “I’ll join a gym this year” approach to a mentorship, where things start off great but fizzle out by March, it’s time to lower the barriers while increasing the results with something new. As National Mentoring Month draws to a close today, I give you the micro-mentorship. It’s not a term or an idea that I invented, but it’s something that I’ve practiced with wild success, and I hope you can find even wilder success as you practice it, too.
What is micro-mentorship? It’s giving or seeking advice in bite-size engagements to benefit a human who knows where they’d like to take their career but has countless meetings, endless scrolling, and the latest season of The White Lotus to get through.
HOW IT WORKS FOR MENTEES
If you haven’t already, write down your near-term and long-term career ambitions. It could be on the back of a napkin or take up a tome. The important thing is that it’s clear and inspiring to you and that you write it down. Writing your goals down gives them significance and keeps you accountable for working toward them.
Next, generate a small but mighty list of people you know or can get introduced to who can help you reach those ambitions. Send one or more of them a note stating your intentions and let them know your goal is to tap their expertise in short, sweet bursts — kind of like a hummingbird sipping nectar.
Strive to keep each interaction “micro” by limiting it to one power question — a thoughtful, open-ended question that sparks conversation and is in service of achieving your goals. Don’t go for too much. One great question is worth 500 mediocre ones. You’ll not only receive invaluable advice, but you’ll also come off as focused, smart, and respectful of your micro-mentor’s time, which will most likely open the door to more conversations. Way to go, you.
Finally, say thank you. Common courtesy is at an all-time low, so you’ll immediately stand out as one of the good ones. Bonus points for asking your mentor if you can help them in any way. They’ll love the gesture, and, who knows? It could lead to a life-altering opportunity for you.
HOW IT WORKS FOR MENTORS
Paying it forward is one the best ways of paying yourself in life fulfillment, and the good news is you don’t have to take major withdrawals from the bank of time to make it happen. Thanks to a buffet of technology complete with your favorite apps, you can micro-mentor from anywhere in the world, any time of day. It helps to start by being realistic about how much time you don’t have and work from there. You can even guide your micro-mentee to limit each engagement to one topic or question at a time to keep your commitment simple, actionable, and sustainable.
It’s not mandatory, but if you have your micro-mentee’s ambitions on file, it will hold both of you accountable to the purpose of the relationship, so you can maximize your time together. I like to take notes since I have the memory of a housefly, but that’s your call.
Bring your full wealth of life experiences to your conversations. The more vulnerable you can be about the ups and downs of your career, the better. Just be sure to keep it about them. Also, consider their life experience when offering your points of view. This is especially important when mentoring someone very different from you. Micro-mentees are likely choosing their micro-mentors based on who they think will widen their lens of experiences, so inversely, it’s important to be mindful of their unique personal background as well.
To the last point, be open to growing from the micro-mentorship yourself. Over the years, I feel that I’ve learned more from my micro-mentees than I’ve guided them. In fact, you may want to ask them one power question every time you meet if they’re up for it. Their answer might change the trajectory of your life.
Finally, be present for each engagement. Whether you’re advising via SMS, through a retina display screen, or in person over a double half-caff vanilla latte with a dash of cinnamon and whipped cream, give your mentee your full attention. When you do, you’ll be surprised how much advice you can pack into a short amount of time.