Open yourself to mentors

Aug 21, 2016

Maureen Kler Osako

Maureen is a strategic marketing and communications veteran with core competencies in online software and internet technologies. She is a founding member and owner of Informatics, Inc., a downtown Cedar Rapids web development agency that specializes in the design and implementation of internet applications. She is a member of the IWLC Board of Directors.

Reflecting back over a 30+ year career that has taken me from reception desk to C-Suite, I know that I would not be where I am today without all the great mentoring I had along the way.

While I may not have known what a mentor was back then, I intuitively knew that I could learn and benefit from those around me who modeled personal and professional behavior that I admired and wanted to emulate.

At its very simplistic definition, a mentor is “an experienced and trusted advisor” and there are two kinds of mentorship arrangements: formal or informal. Many businesses and organizations develop formal mentoring programs. That is not something I have experienced. Rather, all of the people I consider to be my mentors have been of the informal variety. People who came into my life—often by happenstance—who encouraged me, promoted me, and believed in me. Some of these people have been family and friends. Others have been employers, teachers, and admired role models. I even consider my children and grandchildren to be mentors to me today for they have lessons to teach me about life.

Mentors have not only given me advice and guidance, they have been a mirror that really allowed me to see myself. As my TV mentor Oprah Winfrey says, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

I have to admit, there were many times I was being mentored and did not even know it. Likewise, I think the person mentoring me did not realize the incredible impact they were making.

Let me give you three examples of my informal mentors.

  • As an awkward, introverted high school student I lacked self esteem and did not have a sense of my own worth. All that changed when a revered English teacher took a special interest in my writing skills. Her encouragement and belief in my abilities gave me the confidence to believe in myself ultimately leading to a period in my career when I worked as a professional writer/editor.
  • Early on in my career, my male boss took me under his wing and provided me with many opportunities to grow and evolve in my position. I believe he saw in me an eagerness and willingness to learn. There was no “formal” mentoring occurring at this time. He simply trusted me and believed in the value I brought to the organization. There was no way I was going to let him down. This propelled me to further my education and take on new roles and projects. Steven Spielberg puts it this way: “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
  • Finally, my husband of 42 years has been and continues to be one of my most trusted mentors. He always encourages my growth and development, provides opportunities for me to expand my horizons and offers sage advice when asked.

I think there may be a tendency today to over think and over complicate the topic of mentors. This can put far too many unrealistic expectations on both the mentor and mentored. No magic bullet here nor quick fix panacea.

I have taken yoga for many years and "open to grace" is a term often associated with yoga practice. It is a way of living with an open-hearted attitude of infinite possibility. In my experience, I have found that if you approach life and your career with an open attitude, mentors present themselves to you. Even now, I look for them every day.