Think about the last time somebody asked you about something you were passionate about. Perhaps without hesitation you began to spew a mini lesson on photography, or maybe your enthusiasm for entrepreneurship led to a discourse about your favorite female-owned businesses. Regardless, the opportunity to discuss something that is of importance to you is unlikely to be burdensome. In fact for many, being sought out for one’s expertise is a dream come true and a validation of one’s own accomplishments. However, many women fall victim to the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that by asking for one’s knowledge or expertise, they are a subsequent “burden” or “annoyance”. A survey by Development Dimensions International found that 71% of women would “always accept invitations” to serve as a mentor to those who asked, but that the majority of those surveyed had only been approached a few times in their career. While programs such as PTTFW’s “Project Grow” aim to sanction female mentor and mentee relationships, the fear of asking for help or mentorship from another woman runs rampant in today’s “self-made” culture.
In addition to the stigmas surrounding powerful women as being “intimidating” or “standoffish”, the myth that successful people come from humble beginnings and simply become “self-made” through their sheer effort and individual determination plagues the minds of corporate hopefuls and leaders-to-be. While many successful people do come from unpromising circumstances, the power of mentorship and positive relationships can become lost in the narrative. However, a sense of community and support is integral to personal and professional wellness, and while loneliness becomes an increasing issue in the US, the need for supportive mentorship relationships among women grows even more. Here are three ways that you can relinquish your fear of asking for help and initiate a positive rapport with the females that you aspire to learn from!
- Acknowledge Their Impact- While approaching your intended mentor, lead with the reasons why you value their expertise. This can be done casually, such as complimenting a colleague’s baking skills and requesting that she teach you her technique. This can also be done formally, and letters are a great way to do so. Formatting the letter to express how the individual has personally inspired you followed by the request that you establish a mentoring relationship adds clarity to your intent. Vocalizing your appreciation for how others impact your life is an excellent way to strengthen and build your personal and professional network, and you would be surprised to learn how contagious this habit can be!
- List Your Goals for Personal Development- Perhaps you feel the urge to seek out a mentor but do not know where to start or who to contact. A good technique to establish focus is to write out a list of ten traits that you hope to emulate in the future. Maybe you struggle with public speaking and would like to become more confident, or perhaps you would like to write a book but first you must focus on becoming more patient with yourself. Acknowledging these aspects of yourself is a useful tool to increase self-awareness and ensure that your future relationships nourish these areas in which you would like to grow.
- Maintain Sincerity With an Attitude of Gratitude- Establishing a mentor relationship with someone that you look up to can be nerve-wracking and over time you may develop a serious case of the “I’M SORRYs”. Whether it is “I’m sorry to bother you” or “I’m sorry but I do not understand”, as a mentee one may feel intimidated by the accomplishments and success of their respective mentor. However, it is important to remain authentic and self-aware throughout the process of building a mentor relationship. Replacing “I’m sorry” with “I’m grateful for your patience” or “thank you for your flexibility” helps instill an honest rapport in your relationship while also serving as an excellent way to commend your mentor for their role in your journey toward self-improvement.
As quoted by US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand,
“A strong mentor can help a young woman find and advance in the career of her dreams that otherwise may have seemed impossible.”