Mentors come in many stripes

Aug 16, 2016


Andrea Hansen

Andrea Hansen is a director of development for UnityPoint Health Foundation in Des Moines and co-founder of, an event planning website. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology and social work from the University of Iowa and a master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan. Having returned to Iowa with her husband to raise their family, she enjoys being a part of programs and projects that help make the Des Moines area a great place to live and work.

I’ve struggled with the word “mentor” until recently. I thought for a long time that I didn’t have a mentor because I wasn’t part of a formal program. I don’t have a person with whom I meet regularly and I definitely haven’t gone up to anyone and asked, “Will you mentor me?”

But, I actually have had several mentors over the years and most often that relationship began with “Can I contact you to learn more?” The mentors I sought out have changed with my career path as my professional and personal interests have grown. 

At this time, I have a few mentors; most of whom don’t even know that I consider them a mentor! These mentors have been generous with their time as I seek them out to learn from their experience while I navigate toward my goals. Sometimes I don’t even have a goal in mind; I’m just interested in learning more about their approach to leadership or career development. My favorite mentors are people who have knowledge in areas I do not, but who also speak honestly, challenge my perceptions, and hold me accountable.

It’s exciting to make a connection with someone with whom you feel safe enough to not have all the answers but also leave feeling motivated by the conversation. I have both professional mentors and personal mentors. I reach out to other parents whose style and approach I admire. I have a favorite yoga instructor who mentors my practice. When I was new to my career, my early mentors were people who could help me polish my professional image and help me connect in a new city. Eventually, I sought out people to help me develop career specific skills and at this mid-point of my career; I am further developing leadership skills and reaching out to people who demonstrate qualities I respect. 

My best advice: give mentoring relationships time to develop. A mentor needs to have some awareness about your capabilities – so be open with him or her. A mentor can speak to their personal experience but if they don’t have a clear picture of you, the relationship isn’t as rich or personal. Often it can take several exploratory conversations before getting to a comfortable place for the work and purpose with the mentor can unfold.

An uncle gave me sound advice when I graduated college. He told me to leave the Midwest to gain an outside perspective on the Midwest. I took his advice and left for the Pacific Northwest for 10 years before returning to Iowa. Without the literal change in geography, I find the same advice to hold true when meeting people and seeking out mentors. Sometimes great mentors can come from vastly different backgrounds and careers than with ones directly aligned with yours. Unique opportunities and inspiration can come from strange bedfellows. I didn’t set out to have the career I have today because I didn’t know it existed! I am so grateful to have met my mentors along the way whose guidance showed me what could be.