Last Friday – On Mentors

Last Friday was one of the more stressful days I have had so far in my life.

Not stressful like “I-have-too-much-to-do-at-work-and-I’ll-miss-the-kids’-school-performance-and-I-can’t-leave-because-of-this-really-important-meeting” stress, as the one you sometimes feel when you are a new working mum, but which goes away after a couple of years (yes, especially mums, my excuses for the bias), nor stressful like “the-big-boss-will-review-this-and-it-really-has-to-be-more-than-perfect” stress.

It was the “I-am-opening-my-heart-and-soul-on-stage-to-ten-strangers-to-achieve-something-I-really-really-want” stress. Have you ever felt that way?

It wasn’t at a job interview for the top job where I wanted to look and talk my best. It was doing that, plus explaining my personal feelings about why I should be accepted as a candidate.

Why would I do this? Because I really, really wanted to participate in a Mentorship programme and find a Mentor.

After one gorgeous sabbatical year, I will be going back to my regular day job at the end of the summer. But going back to your “usual” environment might also make you fall into the “usual” routine. I come back filled with energy and good intentions to make sure I bring some change to what I’m doing.

Having a mentor in a more organised way is something that is still pretty underground to many French in a regular corporate environment. The networks of top universities engage in mentorship programmes, as do other specific organisations for executives. But when I told my colleagues that I was applying for a mentorship programme, many asked: “What does a mentor do?”

A mentor can do many things. One is help you structure your business as an entrepreneur to make sure it takes off using its full potential. Another is to help you choose the right direction for your future career development, or help you better understand how to get where you want to go. But most importantly, it must be someone who is willing to invest time in something that can become a rewarding two-way relationship of personal development and exchange.

Forbes featured a piece last year by Bonnie Marcus, an executive coach, on the difficulty that women still perceive in finding mentors. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, also talks about mentorship in her book Lean In, and the importance it has for women’s career development. In my series of interviews “Everyday Women”, corporate lawyer Sabine Naugès gives an example of one of her early bosses who contributed to advancing her career. Another close friend of mine found a mentor through a mentorship programme similar to the one I participate in. Ten years later she still seeks his advice on questions related to her business and upcoming mergers and acquisitions.

However, women are not alone to benefit from mentors. If you look around you, many people have them in their networks, be it as formal, or informal, mentors. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can simply be a person who inspires you, and who will listen and provide good advice when you need it.

Did I get a Mentor? Yes, I did.

Was it worth the stress? Definitely yes!

And if I hadn’t pulled it off this time, I would still have learnt something for the next time I stand in a room too small to hold a serious speech, but filled with too many people to have a personal discussion.

However, to be able to bring any change whatsoever to my own situation this autumn, I will have to pull things through myself. Nobody else will do it for me. Not even a Mentor.

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