I’ve been blessed with so many meaningful and important mentors in my life. Each and every one of them has given me perspective and motivation. On top of that, every single one of them, in their own way, has helped me slay a hell of a lot of dragons.

After being mentored and mentoring so many other people, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that mentorship is one of the greatest gifts anyone can receive (or give). It is no exaggeration to say that no matter who you are, you can benefit from mentorship. And, no matter who you are, you have something to offer as a mentor.

Given those truths — and as someone who has been on both sides of the table — let me share some ideas about how to get the most out of mentoring others and being mentored yourself.

Look For Someone Who Has What You Want

Many people I talk to have heard how important it is to find a mentor. Their struggle isn’t whether or not to find a mentor. Their struggle is figuring out what to look for in a mentor.

When you’re searching for a mentor, look for someone who has what you want. However, I want to be clear here: I am not talking about finding someone who has the money or material possessions you want. I am talking about looking for somebody you admire and want to emulate.

For example, look around your industry. Who has the position, the experience, and the knowledge that you aspire to? That person would make a good mentor.

As you consider potential mentors, remember that usually the best ones share a parallel with you. They may grapple with similar challenges or be in the same industry. Because their lives and experiences parallel yours in some way, it becomes easier to talk to them about the things you need help with. They have been there. They can relate.

Embrace the Power of Nine

Beyond knowing what to look for in a mentor, it’s helpful to know what kind of mentoring relationships to seek out. I found the perfect answer to that question about 10 years ago, when I was speaking at the University of Missouri.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to talk to another speaker, who gave me some excellent advice. She told me that at any given time, she looks to have nine deep mentoring relationships. She aims to have three mentors, three peer-to-peer mentors, and three people she’s mentoring.

If adding nine people to your life sounds overwhelming, I get it. I live in New York City, and I have a lot of friends. While I strive for it, nine more people in my life is a little much. So I make that a goal, but at the same time, I give myself permission to just add three people at a time. You can do the same.

What does this look like? Perhaps you start with one person who is mentoring you, one peer-to-peer mentor relationship, and one mentee. See how that feels, and—if it feels right—add on from there. It’s your life, so choose your own adventure.

Formal Mentorship

Settling on a potential mentor is just the beginning. Formal mentorship is incredibly beneficial, but it does require you to put in effort to get the most benefit. Remember, mentorships are relationships; they need to be nurtured. One of the best ways you can do that? Respect your mentor’s time.

Generally, the people who make the best formal mentors are very accomplished and very busy. If they add you to their calendar and you cancel with little-to-no notice, you can crash and burn before you even get things off the ground.

I tell my mentees right from the beginning to treat our time together like a business meeting with a client or boss. Respect the time you have with your mentor. After all, it’s your time to work on you and/or your business. So treat it as such; show up, be prepared, and be fully present.

Peer-to-Peer Mentorship

Along with formal mentorships, I think establishing several peer-to-peer mentorships is crucial for growth. And, if I’m being completely honest, as great as formal mentorship is, the best mentors I’ve had have been my peers.

Usually, peer mentors are friends who are also in your industry and share life experiences with you. Because they are on the same level as you (just on a slightly different career path), they are exceptional resources to turn to when you run into problems. You can connect with them, tell them the issue you’re having, and ask them what they would do in that situation.

Peer mentors can help you find creative solutions to challenges, share best business practices, and offer you a knowledgeable sounding board. Truthfully, their value cannot be overstated.

Of course, it goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway): while these types of mentor relationships are often relatively informal, it’s still important to be fully present when you talk with them, and to be respectful of the time they’re sharing with you.

Mentoring Other People

When it comes to being a mentor, it’s common to question whether you have anything to offer. This seems to be especially true for women; we are frequently self-critical, and we often doubt that we are qualified to mentor others.

If you’ve found yourself wondering whether you have what it takes to mentor, let me tell you what I tell the people I talk to: if somebody ever sends you an email, or shoots you a text, or gives you a call, and says, “I’d like to pick your brain about X,” then you have what it takes to be a mentor. If somebody is looking to you for advice, then you’re doing something right.

So along with finding a formal mentor and peer mentors, I strongly encourage you to consider mentoring. Not only will you help your mentee, but you will also benefit. A lot of times when you become a mentor, you get reminded of what you used to do that worked. Plus, mentoring someone and answering their questions forces you to really tap into and clarify your own knowledge.

Being forced to go back to the basics in this way is invaluable. Another benefit? If your mentee talks to you about a new tool they’re using or an approach they want to try, you will learn from them, which is an amazing feeling.

Everything Blends Together

When it comes to mentoring, the last piece of advice I want to give you is to stay open, no matter where your mentors show up. In other words, don’t solely focus on mentors who are in your same industry. Sometimes, mentors may come from other parts of your life (personal or professional).

A lot of times, people talk about work–life balance, but for a lot of us (especially us women), work life and personal life blend together. Because of that, we may know someone in our personal life who ends up mentoring us in our professional life.

My dad was a perfect example of this. Not only was he my very first mentor, he also mentored me in court cases when I started my career.
Stay open to the possibility of each aspect of your life intermingling with every other aspect. If you do that — and focus on creating various mentoring relationships — you will be in the sweet spot. Best of all, by engaging in mentoring, not only will you benefit, but you will also help other people grow and reach their maximum potential.

For more advice on how mentorship can help you slay your dragons, you can find Pancakes for Roger on Amazon.

Susan L. Combs is president of Combs & Company, a full-service insurance brokerage firm based in New York City. Susan started the company at 26 years old with a drive to “Do more, better.” This internal mantra has resulted in numerous successes and firsts, such as being named the youngest national president in the 85+-year history of Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS) and the first female Broker of the Year winner for BenefitsPro. Susan is “a Missouri girl in a New York world,” and it’s the lessons she learned during her Midwestern upbringing and two-plus decades in New York City that are the basis of this book. The insights contained in these pages come from family, friends, colleagues, and life in general. But the most important teachings are from her late father. It was his steady guidance in life that set Susan’s foundation and it was his passing that inspired her new movement, Pancakes for Roger. When Susan’s not running her business or trying to help others through their own challenges, you can find her flipping tires at her beloved CrossFit gym, supporting the Missouri Tigers, KC Chiefs, and Royals, or slaying the dragons that have come her way.