The mentor excuse

“Will you be my mentor?” – is a question most successful folk get. Sadly, it is the wrong question. And, unfortunately, it is more an excuse than a question.

First, it is the wrong question because mentorship doesn’t work like that. The two largest elements that contribute to successful mentorship are chemistry and proximity. And, if proximity isn’t hard enough, chemistry is an unknown and one that isn’t all that hard to divine. Put it differently, if someone wants to be your mentor, you will know. But, of course, you will need to find an excuse to interact or work with that person frequently first. This is not to say finding an uber successful super star mentor is impossible. But, the odds are low.

Next, it is an excuse if we identify mentorship as sequential to attaining mastery. It isn’t. The reliable approach is by using a tremendous amount of grit. A mentor is just a bonus on our path to mastery.

It is also a rather poor excuse because you can spend time with any hero/heroine you’d like to emulate. Warren Buffett? You can spend days reading his notes to investors. Or, Jessica Alba? There’s plenty written about “The Honest Company.” Elon Musk? Enough written about him and by him to keep you busy for a month.

There’s enough out there to help us get smarter, better and inspired. Waiting for mentorship is a poor excuse indeed.

PS: Your greatest first mentor is you. But, if you insist on finding others, just know that when you buckle down and do good stuff, consistently, you’ll find yourself attracting other potential mentors and heroes as well.

You have to make the effort

People who are good at directions are those who make the effort to memorize directions.

People who do well in school are those who make the effort to attend classes and follow up.

People who remember names are those who make the effort to make associations that help them remember names.

People who sustain long relationships are those who make the effort to stay connected.

We choose either to make excuses or to just make the effort. There is no hack that will help. You just have to decide to do it and then, do it.

And, of course, you’ll feel useless and fail as you progress. But, as Ben Horowitz likes to say, that’s how we get made.

When will the excuses stop?

My mom pointed out this morning that a couple of my blog posts last week had a bunch of grammatical errors. My initial reaction during that split second was to get defensive and offer an excuse. It had touched an insecurity around my ability to write. And, I reasoned to myself, it had after all been a brutal last couple of weeks and, on some days, just hitting publish on a post felt like a victory.

That’s when a question crossed my mind –  when will the excuses stop?

Sure, the next couple of weeks may not be brutal. But, what about the next tough period? Will I make excuses then, too? ‘

The English football team offers a shining example of this problem. After every international tournament failure, the media points to one excuse after another. And, it typically ends with everyone blaming the English Premier League for not having enough homegrown players.

If the problem was that, how do you explain Costa Rica knocking out big wigs like Italy and England en-route to the quarter finals? How you explain a team like Algeria narrowly losing to the Germans in the Round of 16? Both these teams didn’t make it there by accident. They were simply teams that were good at playing together as a team. They got good while the others didn’t.

England’s failure was not a surprise to me. Germany’s success was not a surprise either (the extent of the thrashing they doled out to Brazil definitely was). The former makes a habit of making excuses while the latter simply focuses on clinical execution by a collection of excellent football players.

It is impossible to get better by making excuses. I ended up engaging my mom to help fix the grammatical errors. While I am glad I did, I also know that I was awfully close to making an excuse.

We always have a choice – to make an excuse or simply get better. And, I find it heartening that it is entirely my choice.