If you are feeling like you're not making progress toward the things you want in life, it could be because you have not set clear goals for yourself - goals about where you want to get to in personal relationships, career, finance, health, education, basically all the key aspects of your life.
Putting it simply, if you do not have clear goals you are wandering aimlessly in the desert. If you happen to have stumbled on water and food it is pure luck. Depending on luck to get through life is not a good plan for success.
Speaking of success, you need to define what success means to you, not what other people tell you it is. Not everybody considers having gazillions of dollars success, nor does everybody view living alone in a hut at the top of mountain success. Some may, but that is their choice.
Before you can set goals for the various aspects of your life you should first decide how you will measure success. For example, if having many friends and an active social life is what you want, that will significantly impact your goals and choices. Similarly, if having just one good friend is all you need, you will make very different choices and set different goals.
How do you set a goal? What are the characteristics of a goal?
A common approach to goal setting is using the S.M.A.R.T. approach. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. So when you construct a goal it should have all these characteristics. For example a health goal may be: I want to complete the Boston Marathon in under 4 hours in 2018. This is very specific, measurable, achievable (assuming you are in suitable health), and may be very relevant for your particular life goals.
You will most likely want to set multiple goals. However, do not try to set too many, because then you are mostly likely to achieve none. I believe you should keep between 3 and 5.
Knowing your personal passion and what you are good at doing makes setting goals easier. If you do not have clarity on these, maybe that should be your first goal: to discover your passion and inherent skills and capability. Knowing your passion will help you set your core goals on what you want achieve in your career, and perhaps your financial goals as these two are often interconnected. Your career goal may be to become a fiction writer, but you may generate your current income being a marketing content creator. In this case you use your core capability to sustain your life until your career as a writer is established.
When you engage with a mentor, one of the first discussions will be “What are your goals?” and most importantly "Why?". I always ask my proteges why they have set the goals they have. Often they can’t answer, or have fuzzy thinking about why they have set the specific goals. Before I can address specifics to guide them, I first challenge them to answer why they have these goals. Frequently they realize they have the wrong goals. We can then work on finding their true goals, and the real work can start.
Rise above and achieve those goals!
In a recent discussion with a protegee, she revealed a very disturbing past experience that fundamentally impacted her life at many levels, and mostly in negative ways. This person, let's call her Mary, was studying filmmaking and was receiving mentoring help from a well-known writer on scriptwriting. Mary had always received very positive feedback and commentary on her writing from a variety of people, including the mentor, and felt confident about her ability to write and do it well. Initially, the advice and guidance she received from her mentor was helping her challenge herself, understand her goals and what was driving her to create. Then, completely unexpectedly, her mentor told her that her script was terrible (but not why, or how to fix it) and that she was wasting her time and the mentor's time with her writing. Devastated by this feedback from someone she had respected up to that point, Mary had lost the person that was supposed to be there helping her grow and develop. Why the mentor did what they did was unclear, but it was traumatic to Mary. She withdrew, and it took her many years to even consider writing again, and even more before she tried. With support and guidance from a new mentor she emerged from the creative wasteland and is now back to creating and providing joy and pleasure to those that read her work.
Having good mentors is critical for success in your personal growth and career development. That has been demonstrated over and over. The question is not should you have a mentor, it is how do you go about selecting the right mentor?
How do you find good mentors? What questions should you ask? How do you choose?
The questions you need to ask yourself are "What do I need to get from my mentor? What are my goals? What do I need help with?" Maybe you don’t have clear answers to these basic questions. That is okay. The key is understanding why you want a mentor and what you need them to provide guidance on. Once you have clarity about why, then you can more easily find the best match in a mentor.
When looking at a mentor, you want to make sure your mentor is as excited about learning and developing as you are. As I wrote in the previous blog post on the difference between coaching and mentoring, mentoring is a mutually beneficial process where both the mentor and protege are learning from the process. Great mentors are also those who gain pleasure and satisfaction from helping you learn, grow and succeed. They are cheering you on (albeit quietly) and feel rewarded by your success. Ask how they work with proteges, what they will expect from you, and what you can expect from them.
Identify people you respect for their work, or maybe are referred by someone you trust. Try to find several potential mentors. Then interview them. Do not be afraid to ask how they work, what brings them satisfaction, and how they will measure the progress of being your mentor. During that initial interview determine if you respect the mentor and how they make you feel. Can you see building a strong trust relationship with this person? You are going to be sharing some very personal goals and asking for advice about potentially life-changing, or at least career-defining choices. You must be able to have open and honest communication. If you feel reticence, ask more questions. Try to find out why you feel that way. Once you have talked to all the candidates, make your choice and understand you are making a commitment that will change you life. It will have a similar impact on the mentor - whatever you choose will change their life as well.
A good mentor will help you achieve and exceed your goals, as well as your expectations for yourself. Choosing the wrong mentor can be devastating. Just ask Mary.
Over the years I have mentored many technologists in the high tech industry. It will come as no surprise most are introverted and quiet, preferring to quietly do the things they enjoy, which is to solve hard problems and learn new things constantly. At some point they start understanding that solving problems is not enough to be successful in the world. You need to be able tell others about the problem you solved and show your solution. Very often, to get the time and/or resources to finish solving a problem you also will need to influence others and get their support. This is very hard for most technologists because they do not have the self-confidence to present their case and gain the support of key decision makers.
Isn’t Mentoring just Coaching?
Before jumping in to answering this question I thought it would be good to give some examples of successful leaders that all have or had mentors. Here are a few:
Anyone can have a mentor. Most successful people understand that getting one or more mentors to help them and give guidance is not only valuable, but critical to achieve their goals. A mentor can be for life, and often is.
Now. Back to the main topic.
One of the common questions asked is "What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Are they not the same thing?"
Simply, the answer is no, they are not the same. They are different tools, processes and relationships, and usually used in different settings.
Let’s look at what they are and how they differ.
The dictionary definition of coaching is: “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life; a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling”.
In practice, coaching is usually practiced inside an organization, business, or sports team where there is an organization hierarchy with skill delivery leading to high performance at the core of the work. Coaches are usually in the direct management chain of the person or team being coached, and most often the coaching is short term and focused on skill development. It will center around a specific position, job function, or role in an organization and will use performance based evaluation to measure progress. There will most likely be a structured performance evaluation or metrics to measure the rate and level of skill development. One can be an effective coach without being a mentor.
The dictionary definition of a mentor is: “a trusted counselor or guide”.
Mentoring at its core is about the relationship between the mentor and protégés (males) or protégées (females). The mentoring relationship can be for a short period, for example six months, but it can also be for a lifetime. Many successful people have had lifelong mentors. Mentors are most often outside an individual’s management chain, and often not in the same organization or company. Mentoring looks to develop the person and look at their overall life and success, and is not focused on a particular role or position, but may do that in the short term when needed. Progress is measured by the mentee's realization of achievement and success in life, not by performance reviews. The mentoring relationship is usually mutually beneficial, with both parties learning and growing during the process. Most importantly, one cannot be an effective mentor and not also be a good coach.
An effective mentor will bring all the skills of a good coach into a relationship, but will add much more by looking at the bigger life picture and help develop goals, skills and behaviors that impact the mentee's whole life, not just their work position or role.
Given this broader and deeper role of a mentor, it is key that you select the mentor or mentors in your life with care. You and the mentor must be able to work together, you must trust the mentor and be open to hearing hard truths about yourself without becoming defensive. Mentoring is about you taking control of your life and how you will live it, as well as achieving your goals and a high quality life. You should interview potential mentors and pick the one that challenges you the most, the one that can drive you to success.