Five on Design  |  Episode 52  |  July 3, 2018

How to find a mentor

One of the benefits of being in school is it’s easy to find a mentor. Often a school has these for you. We just call them teachers. Whether its a teacher, teacher assistant, or a student, there’s always somebody invested in making you a better graphic designer. Once you switch out of school and into the real world, it’s more difficult to find somebody who can do that.

So how do you go about finding a mentor?

In my case, I found one not long after I started my freelance business. It was a through a Twitter conversation and some luck that I found Jessica Rosengard. Some of you may recall we had a podcast together for a few years about graphic design.

Working with Jessica was a benefit to me because she was farther along in her career and her business. As a result, she had good insight when I would run into an issue or a problem. While I was banging my head against a wall, she often had the experience to offer answers, advice, or guidance that I needed.

This didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t go to her right away and say, Hey, do you want to be my mentor?” If I had to wager a guess, between the time I reached out and the time I started asking for advice was around four to six months. But it was worth it, because I had to figure out whether or not it was even going to be a good fit. And in that case it was.

If I had to start over and find a mentor again, I would reach out to more than one person. Like I said, I got super lucky finding somebody that that would click with me in the way that I did. But I don’t think everyone’s always that fortunate. It might take you one or two tries to find somebody that is the level that you need a mentor to be at.

Reaching out to multiple people doesn’t mean ou have to stick with all of them. You can narrow down until you have one or two that you might be comfortable working with. But it gives you the opportunity to see who fits best with you. Who gives you the answers and the guidance that you need, and who might not be working out. It’s also great because you can compare them with each other.

Doing this helps give you an idea of who is going to work best for you. 

That said, my biggest piece of advice: find someone who isn’t going to just give you the answers all the time. I know this is a frustrating bit of advice.

If you’re going through some difficulties, you want someone who guides you through them and doesn’t just tell you what to do. A good mentor shows you the ropes, or point you in the right direction. But they’re not going to give you the answer straight up all the time.

There might be times where they do. But ultimately, you’re the one who has to figure things out. You’re in charge of your business or career. You may end up with a different solution to the same problem, but that’s okay.

Last: it’s okay if you outgrow your mentor. This might be difficult to hear, but at some point, you may reach a stage where you feel your experience level is near at or above your mentor. Don’t be afraid if it happens.

Consider it an opportunity to find another mentor or someone who is more in alignment with where you want to go. It’s a process, not a result. Finding a group of people who can help you succeed will certainly be beneficial to you career and your business.