I know a lot of friends who are smart, capable, confident, and will no doubt go far in life. But something is holding them back, they could go further! They don’t seek out mentorship. They won’t let themselves be helped. Let’s dive into the topic of vulnerability, and how embracing it can lead to personal growth, as well as objective, measurable improvement in results and career growth.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t remember learning to tie your shoelaces. As an adult, you do it at least once a day, confidently quickly, as a chore and a task to be gotten through as quickly as possible. It’s easy to forget how recently, tiny awkward fingers fumbled with curly bits of un-tamable cord. Those were your fingers. You’ve come so far. But don’t forget; someone taught you to tie your shoes. A person who took the time and the patience to teach you, slowly and carefully, most likely. In fact, multiple people probably did. It takes a village, as they say. How quickly we become lost in our own ability, and forget that entire period of our lives where a steep and difficult learning curve was the every day occurrence.
Retreating to comfort
If you look at how much you’re learning now (it’s no doubt more difficult than tying your shoes), it’s probably less. You’re tackling only one or two new subjects at a time. You’re definitely learning, but are you leaning into the learning? Or are you resting on your laurels. Leaning into the comfort of familiarity. It’s seductive to stick to what you know, and what you’re good at. Those incumbents in any field are eventually dethroned, not by a giant of their same stature, but most often by a young and upcoming person who is learning everything anew, hungry for learning, hungry for change, and has nothing to lose. So throw off that comfortable blanket, and get out there, hungry to learn and improve. Be unafraid to look like a foolish beginner again. And if you’ve already started, then take this chance to take on a mentor to improve even faster.
Deciding to take on a mentor is emotionally challenging, because it requires you to accept that you don’t know everything. It’s a humbling experience. It requires you to admit that you need help. That you aren’t perfect. That’s it’s OK to not be perfect. That you can be vulnerable. That you can be vulnerable with someone who (at first blush) seems so foreign. You’ll have to trust them. You’ll have to take a leap of faith, and believe that they want what is best for you, and will not use your vulnerability against you. Taking on a mentor is akin to a mini wedding vow. It’s a long term commitment to a relationship that will grow and change and evolve along with you.
But it’s worth it. I’ve found that having a mentor has allowed me to accomplish more than I thought possible. I’ve been able to do things that I previously thought I wasn’t capable of. I’ve been able to solve problems that I previously thought were unsolvable. I’ve learned how to be better. I’ve even learned how to learn better. I’ve learned what it really means to be a professional, and an adult. I’ve learned how to be a responsible human being, and a productive member of society.
It’s shown me that I’m not perfect. And that it’s OK. I’ve learned that it’s OK to make mistakes and fail, it’s even expected. That it’s OK to take on a project that I think is too hard, and then fail. And fail. And fail. I’ve learned that when you’ve failed more than you’ve succeeded, you’re still ahead of everyone who hasn’t tried.
I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for help. That it’s OK to ask for help from someone who is in a different field than I am. I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for help, even if I don’t think I need it, but that I just want someone objective to talk about it with. These things are all important. One of the single greatest things you can do for yourself in a field, is to seek out and find a great mentor. If you’re an actor in the performing arts, you can become an understudy, and ask for someone to take you under their wing. For those who want to make it big in radio, then seek out a great voice actor coach. And for you business people, the CEOs, and the lawyers; take the time to find a group of like-minded people who will support you, and who may provide opportunities to identify and retain a high-quality mentor who has your best interests at heart. Finding and keeping a mentor who is willing to help you, and, importantly, you are willing to be helped by, is like adding a second brain onto your head. Suddenly all your problems now have solutions from two different perspectives, instead of just one, and suddenly a lot of hazy subjective bias is removed from one of your two brains. It’s like having a superpower.
So, allow yourself to be helped: become help-able. There’s no prize at the end of life for doing it all yourself, only the objective results count, plus how well you struggle in the meantime. Having someone who has walked the path before you, can really make that path all the more enjoyable. So become help-able!