We hear so much about mentoring and how wonderful it is…the importance of mentoring, how mentors help you move into leadership roles, everyone should have multiple mentors, etc. But life-changing? Yes. A good mentor can, quite literally, change the course of your life. A mentor might encourage you to explore career options you might not have otherwise considered. A mentor might introduce you to someone who ends up being your next boss. A mentor might even help you find the courage to make a significant life change.
Life Change #1: Leaving Engineering
Mentoring changed the course of my life on three occasions. The first time, I was in my mid-twenties, feeling less than inspired by my job as a structural engineer. I had been in engineering for over seven years, and I was restless. Projects felt too similar to each other, like slightly different applications of the same formulas and methodologies, not radically new and challenging problems to solve. The prospect of doing roughly the same thing over and over again for the next 40 years was, quite frankly, depressing. But, structural engineering was what I had signed up for, what I had worked so hard to succeed at.
My friend Marci was also a structural engineer, a few years older than me, but decades ahead of me in life wisdom. Marci and I cycled fifteen miles together every Tuesday morning, and we had plenty of time to chat about life during our rides. Through these chats, Marci became a very influential mentor to me. She asked me one day, “If you’re not happy with your job, why don’t you just quit? Take some time off and think about what you really want.” This was one of the most ridiculous suggestions I’d ever heard. “I can’t do that!” I scoffed. “Why not?” she asked. Well…hmmm…why not? I came up with lots of reasons…people would think I couldn’t cut it, this type of thing just wasn’t done by successful people, I’d have to really cut back on my spending…but each excuse sounded shallow as I said it. When I really thought about it, there was no good reason why I couldn’t quit my job.
So, after talking it through with my husband, that’s exactly what I did. My plan was to take six months off and then return to engineering, but I never returned. Once I had time to think about what I wanted in life…my passion for business and for managing people…I decided to go to business school.
Life Change #2: Getting a Job at IBM
My second life-changing mentoring experience happened during business school. Over the course of exploring career options, I became fascinated with management consulting. Getting paid to solve really interesting, challenging, varied problems sounded like my dream job. I became close with one of my professors, Batia, and I asked her for advice on changing my career to consulting. She knew a lot about the consulting industry and gave me heaps of good advice on the different consulting companies to consider, and which ones might suit me the best based on my background and personality. She also gave me great advice on my resume, cover letters and interviewing tips, which was extremely helpful since structural engineering was a very atypical background for a management consultant. I couldn’t believe how generous Batia was with her time…and she didn’t stop there. She also introduced me to people she knew at several consulting companies. One of those companies was IBM.
Batia introduced me to one of her former students, Felicia, who was now working in IBM’s internal strategy consulting group. By the time I got to first round interviews with IBM, I had already spoken with two people in the internal consulting group, and those connections helped me to sail through first rounds. I got to final rounds, and it turned out that one of my interviewers was Felicia. Maybe I was feeling too self-assured going into the interview, or maybe I hadn’t had enough sleep, or maybe it was just bad luck…but I bombed my case interview with Felicia. I knew that was probably the end of the road for me with IBM. But Felicia called me that evening. “This is an unusual call, because we’re not saying yes and we’re not saying no. You bombed your case, but Batia wrote such a strong letter of recommendation for you that we’ve decided to give you another chance. Practice your casing this weekend, and we’ll have you back for another set of interviews next week.” Wow, how often in life do you get a do-over like that? I practiced hard that weekend, I nailed the case interview the following week, IBM gave me the offer, and I spent 8 ½ years working in IBM’s internal consulting group. Thanks to my amazing mentor, Batia.
Life Change #3: Following My Passion for People
My third life-changing mentoring experience happened just a few months ago. I was still working in IBM’s internal consulting group at the time, and I still loved my job, but part of me was feeling like it was time to think about finding the next thing. I had become increasingly passionate about talent management over the past few years, and I was feeling more and more like I wanted to move my career in that direction. In fact, I had been feeling that way for quite some time, but I was happy enough with my job that I wasn’t proactive about pursuing talent management opportunities. Then about six months ago, I decided to reach out to one of my mentors, Christina Zini.
I had known Christina for several years, since we worked together on a project at IBM, and she had become an important mentor to me as well as a friend. Christina had left IBM to start her own business as a women’s leadership coach (shedreamsbig.com). Feeling like it was time to be more proactive about shaping my career, I hired Christina as my career coach. Through our biweekly coaching calls, I became more focused on thinking about where I wanted to take my career, and what actions I should take to get there. With Christina’s help, I developed a plan to start building my brand as a talent expert and to start exploring talent-related career opportunities.
Then, my career-change plan suddenly accelerated when I was put on a project that I particularly disliked. I decided that rather than spending the next several months focused on something I wasn’t passionate about, I would quit my job and focus all my efforts on following my passion and finding a job in the talent space. So that’s exactly what I did.
I am now a few months into my job search, and while some people may think I’m crazy for walking away from a perfectly good job with a steady paycheck, I know I did the right thing. And it was working with Christina that not only helped me figure out a career plan, but gave me the confidence to take a bold risk and follow my passion.
Those are my mentoring stories…and I’ve heard and read similar stories from countless others, across all stages of life, about how mentoring profoundly changed their lives. The inner city school kid who was inspired by his “big brother” to work hard in school and apply for college. The college graduate who was encouraged by her professor to follow her passion for social work instead of taking a job in the family business. The young financial analyst who left his job on Wall Street for a technology startup, because his mentor not only encouraged him to follow his passion but introduced him to the entrepreneur who hired him. The 50-year-old mother who decided to go back to school after her youngest child left home, and became a massage therapist, because of the support and encouragement of a good friend. The list goes on and on.
What’s your story? How has mentoring changed your life? Please share your story in the comments section below…I’d love to hear from you!
Photo credit: canstockphoto.com