Don’t seek great mentors, seek great influences

Mentorship is a luxury. A great mentor relationship requires many favorable conditions – chemistry, good timing, and proximity among them. And, yes, when it works, it can have a magical effect on the learning curves of both the mentor and the mentee. But, so much of finding that great mentor relationship is outside our control that it is a reactive approach to learning at best, and lazy at worst.

Great influences, on the other hand, are all around us. We have more access to admirable folks than ever before. The life, work, and thought processes of luminaries like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Marcus Aurelius are just a book away. That person you admire likely has a blog, a book, or an active twitter account. If we are the average of the five folks we spend our time with, it is easier than ever to be exceptional by simply letting ourselves being influenced by the wisest minds in human history.

The best part about great influences don’t have to be famous people. Your inspirational co-worker or parent can do the job as well.

We can, of course, wait for that great, uber successful, mentor to pick us and continue to let ourselves off the hook until they do.

Or, we can go seek great influences, learn from them, and keep plugging away.

Our choice.

In praise of heroes

Mentorship is an all-encompassing relationship. It works for some and doesn’t work for others. And, even for those whom it works for, it brings all sorts of complications with it – for example, ‘letting go’ / the eventual break is problematic in many mentor-mentee relationships.

However, we can all have heroes. While Seth Godin defines heroes as folks who live their life in public and broadcast their model to anyone who likes to follow, I tend to think that that’s just a part of the equation. A hero, in my definition, is anybody who inspires you to be your best self. While heroes can be people who live their life in public, they can also be people you’ve met for a short while, they can be your friends – just about anyone who inspires you to be better, learn more, and take action.

For example, I met a friend on a recent project in Japan. Let’s call him Jan. Jan is my hero for banishing procrastination. I have a sneaking suspicion that he has no clue what procrastination is (I didn’t proceed to define it for him). You give Jan a task and it is done. There is just no delay. No hangups. He substitutes the usual groans at having to do an annoying task with enthusiasm and a fantastic attitude. I was blown away.

Since spending time with Jan, I’ve made many changes in my life to follow his example. I clear emails when I see them now – no dilly-dallying. I remember him every morning when I look at the list of things to do. I attempt a Jan-esque smile at the annoying tasks and then work to plough through them. His example has inspired me to be the best I can be… and, for that, I am really grateful.

That’s the best part about heroes. You can have hundreds of heroes and they can help inspire you to do the little things better. Almost everyday, when I hit publish on this blog post, I ask myself – “Would this be a blog post that Seth Godin would consider worthy?” It inspires me to take another look at the post and do my best every day.