Mentors Matter...As Early As Middle School

01/11/2017 02:09 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2018

Hey, middle school girls - it's 2017! You know what that means - every magazine cover is plastered with reasons why you need a sparkly new set of resolutions. But we have a different New Year's wish for you. You don't need a resolution to make this your #BestYearYet. Girls, what you need is a mentor.

Yep, a mentor.

No, it's not a kind of breath mint. And no matter what some adults in your world might say, it's not something you're too young to have.

If you Google "mentor" you will find zillions of long-winded explanations - most of them geared toward grown ups in the workforce. But because it's just us talking here, let's simplify matters: Mentors are nothing more than people who do what you like to do, but they've been doing it longer and are super good at it.

Mentors serve as real-life role models, cultivating talents you didn't know you had, identifying jobs you never knew existed and highlighting pathways to achieve your goals. When you think about it, mentors are incredibly useful to have in your life...right now! And if you look hard enough - and choose wisely - you'll find one.

#HowToFindAMentor

Start local. Teachers in your favorite subjects can be mentors. Coaches and camp counselors can be mentors. Community leaders, accomplished aunts and that mom down the street with the insanely cool job - all of these people make great mentors. Really, any expert in a field that you love has the potential to be a role model, and there are resources out there tailored for girls your age to help you identify and approach the right one.

Hang on - moms and aunts? Yeah, we said it. There is something special about finding a mentor who has...you know, actually been a middle school girl and can relate to the high-tops you're standing in. Someone who understands the unique challenges facing girls as they approach high school, college and that first day on the job. There are wise words being exchanged among women these days - ask your smart big sister to show you her role models at LeanIn and Ellevate - and there's no reason you shouldn't strive to build your own network. Female mentors are the gold standard - find one if you can.

But, of course, role models come in many forms and the key is recognizing the right one at the right time. Whomever you select, remember that there is a difference between a mentor and, say, a private coach or tutor, in that mentors find mentorship relationships rewarding on their own. They remember what it was like in the early days of their careers, and are usually delighted to welcome others to the stage. Or the field. Or the lab. You get the idea. The point is, you don't have to pay a mentor - they just expect you to pay it forward someday and mentor somebody else.

#HowToBeAMentor

Stop laughing. Seriously, just stop it. Yes, you can absolutely be a mentor in middle school! Think about it - are you amazing at languages? Offer to tutor someone in a lower grade. Does the coach always pick you to demonstrate new plays? Organize a pre-practice session for newer players. Look for younger kids who want to do the things you're already great at, and make the time to help. This is how you repay those who have inspired you. This is how you make your mentors proud.

One last thought - listen up, girls - as in any big step there are important safeguards to follow. Remember to run potential mentors by the trusted adults in your life and make sure they meet each other. While gaining a mentor in middle school might be one of the most important events in your life, big middle school events usually require a parental permission slip, and this is no exception. Get everybody on board and signed off. Then you can move forward.

We know, this all sounds really grown up.

It sounds like something you shouldn't need to think about until you move out of the house and get a job. Or at least until you can drive yourself to a job. But girls, mentors matter - right now.

And unlike a driver's license, you don't need to wait until high school to get one.

In fact, finding a mentor is something that will get you a whole lot further down the road than any driver's license, because the person showing you the road, well...she paved it.