At 15 I decided I wanted to be a professional bodybuilder. It was an ambitious goal for a scrawny, introverted high school sophomore with a touch of scoliosis. But a boy can dream, can't he?
So with the eye of the tiger and fire in my veins, I biked up to the YMCA every day after school and hit those weights like there was no tomorrow. I had a couple near misses with the bench press that I'm sure I owe to a higher power. And at the end of the summer, I ripped off my shirt, convinced that I would see the bulging muscles I'd been forging in the fire of my desire. I was ready to see the progress. Come on baby! I looked into the mirror, and lo and behold....
I had made absolutely zero progress.
Except for a few bruises from the aforementioned bench press accidents and a tiny bulge in my arms I (which could have very well been attributed to swelling), I looked exactly the same.
What was I doing wrong, I wondered? I'd read all the articles on building muscle. I'd watched all the videos and I'd carefully studied all the big guys at the gym. What piece was I missing?
Then it dawned on me: I had no practical experience in the arena of physique transformation. Everything I was doing was strictly trial and error based on things I thought I knew. I was running off pure assumption (and you know what they say about that...).
This lack of experience introduced a classic chicken-egg scenario for me. You've probably experienced something similar at some point in your life. If I didn't have any experience, I would not know which steps I needed to take in order to get where I wanted to go. On the other hand, if I never took any steps, I'd never get where I was going anyway.
I needed help. I needed a mentor. I decided to seek one out.
I remembered seeing a pro bodybuilder work out at my Y a few times years ago, so I snuck behind the front desk and looked his name up. Yes, I know how that sounds, but I was determined to get help.
Let's fast forward, lest I bore you with more Rocky-esque imagery. I basically begged him to train me. We started working together, he took me under his gigantic, muscled wing and taught me the ways of the warrior. Three years later, I was standing on stage a champion: ripped and never prouder to be doused in baby oil and fake tan, all while rocking a mankini.
Looking back, I'm happy with my accomplishments on stage (I've since hung up the trunks). However, what resonates with me the most is my decision to ask for experienced help and the dramatic increase in success I saw after I started getting that guidance.
As I've grown entrepreneurially, I've repeatedly sought out mentorships to accelerate my progress and I've boiled the system down to a formula that is repeatable and predictable. The strategy works extremely well for developing yourself personally and professionally.
There are four primary stages to finding a mentor and growing the most from the relationship.
Stage One: Specificity
Specificity is the fastest way make measurable progress. If I'd sought out someone to simply coach me on "fitness," I might have ended up grooving to '80s dance tunes in a leotard rather than learning the specific skills I needed to walk on a bodybuilding stage.
When searching for your mentor, make sure you have a clear picture of what you'd like to improve with their guidance so that you'll know your match when you've found him or her. Conversely, if you're clear and specific about the areas you need to improve, you'll know when someone is not the right person to mentor you.
If you need help starting your online marketing business, seeking out a high level exec who works in the restaurant industry may not be a great fit, even if the exec has a ton of clout.
Specificity is the key here.
Stage Two: Offer value
Many rookies overlook this crucial stage at first, myself include. If you want someone to help you, it's crucial that you come to him or her first with something of value. Your number one priority should be improving their life in any way possible. Start thinking about how you can serve them before they even have the opportunity to ask. Or, when you are asking them to mentor you, immediately introduce the proposition with a return benefit to them.
Maybe you're a computer programmer looking for a startup guru to guide you through launching your dream app. If you have programming skills and they don't, you could offer to do some coding work for them on other projects unrelated to yours.
The key on this one is to do your research. Before you approach anybody that you want to learn from, do a little background digging. Google and Wikipedia are your friends. Find out who they are and what they're about so that you can anticipate what they need. If you can solve a problem of theirs before even asking for their help, your efforts will go much further in securing their counsel.
Stage Three: Listen to your mentor
This seems like a no-brainer, but it's worth really remembering: listen to your mentor. They've been through the challenges that you want to surmount. If you want to model their success, then follow their lead. If they tell you to do something different, change what you've been doing or go in a whole new direction, they most likely have your best interests in mind. Don't let your ego get in the way here. Obviously use your judgment on this one regarding personal safety; but if you can find a mentor who you trust, then trust them completely and follow their lead. If they care about you, they won't steer you wrong.
Stage Four: Evaluate and adjust
Every interaction with your mentor is a chance to learn and grow. Take the experiences with them and reflect on your progress critically, then ask them for feedback every step of the way as you adjust. Their goal is to help you develop skills, so utilize their expertise by forcing yourself to grow, even through the hard parts of your journey.
Having a great mentor can be like jet fuel on a flame in your quest for personal and business success. In an upcoming article, I'll review an interview series I've been working on with some world class mentors of mine and explore how their lessons can help you accelerate your own personal and business lives.