Short-term mentors are underrated

Last week, I received an email regarding mentors:

“I struggle with keeping in touch with ‘mentors.’  We have great conversations, and I get a lot of insight, and we talk for a few months, sometimes a year or so, but then it drifts away. And I just feel like I’ll never find a true mentor.”

I’ve been talking about the importance of mentors for years, so I get these emails often. There is a clear misunderstanding around what makes a “true” mentor. We often talk about mentors in the context of a long-term relationship.  If you google “what is a mentor”, you will find most of the articles describing mentors as “life-long,” “ongoing,” and “everlasting.”

We rarely talk about short-term mentors.  These mentors work with us for a short amount of time, so people often disregard them as mentors even though they can have a lasting impact. I was discussing this topic with my husband, and was inspired by all of the stories he shared about his short-term mentors. The impact they had on him is clear, as he recounted the interactions and lessons learned in astounding detail.

I wanted to share one example to highlight the incredible value a short-term mentor can bring.

Raaid met Ben Smith when he was 21.  From January 6th until March 12th, they exchanged approximately 350 emails, had five phone calls, and met four times.  This mentorship lasted a little over 2 months, but has served Raaid for 7+ years.

Below are just a few examples of the long-term impact Ben had as a short-term mentor:

You’re not a kid, and you have to own your decisions

When Raaid sat down with Ben for the first time, he immediately noticed something.  Ben didn’t treat him like a kid. Ben was an early Google and Youtube executive, and had Forbes writing profiles on him.  Raaid was just getting started with his career. But Ben spoke to Raaid as a colleague, and respected him as he would any other professional.

“That was foreign to me at the time. Ben was the most successful person I knew, and yet he was the only adult that treated me as an equal.  While most adults in my life wanted me to ‘grow up,’ Ben made me realize I already had, and I needed to own my life.”

Raaid had just dropped out of college, and he remembers everyone around him dismissing his actions as those of a “child.”  Most of the adults in his life didn’t think he was being sensible, and instead of respecting his decisions, they imposed their beliefs on him.  Ben was different. He respected Raaid. He was open to his ideas. He offered feedback. He introduced him to his network. He treated him as an equal.  And whether intentional or not, Ben empowered Raaid to own his decisions.

Fast forward eight years, Raaid’s decision to drop out of college was one of the best decisions he has made.

You are valuable, just keep learning

One day, Ben asked Raaid to improve their customer deck, and sent Raaid the current version.  The attached powerpoint was designed well and needed content improvements. Raaid reverted with an updated deck, stripped of all design.  Imagine just white slides with lots of black text. It was painful for me to just look at it, and for Raaid to see it after all of these years.  But Raaid brought up this story because he wanted to share Ben’s response to his efforts:

“Many thanks for your work over the last few days.  I used your deck as inspiration for something I could send out today (attached).”

Raaid remembers how he felt after reading Ben’s email and looking at the deck Ben had attached.  “Ben somehow managed to not make me feel stupid, even though my deck was terrible in comparison to his.  Instead, he made me feel valuable, while also helping me realize how much I had to learn.” Raaid shared this story and recalled Ben’s words without having to pull up the email.

Ben beautifully did what an incredible mentor does: he helped Raaid see his value, and recognize his areas of improvement.

This act of mentorship has stuck with Raaid for years. It served as a very important lesson for him as a mentee, and inspired his approach as a mentor.

Oh, and Raaid is now great at powerpoints 😉

Hustle for your talent

Ben wanted to hire Raaid.  One time, Raaid casually mentioned he was landing at LAX. Ben drove over to pick him up. Every couple weeks, Ben would drop Raaid a note.  He would share resources, or just check in.

Because great founders go out of their way and hustle for the talent they believe in.  And they nurture relationships.

I have seen the teams Raaid has built, and how far he has gone for his people.  I have admired the meticulous follow up, and the incredible value Raaid drives for his relationships. Another lesson he says he learned from Ben.

Back your words up with actions

Ben entered Raaid’s life when Raaid was hustling to prove himself.  While he already had a strong track record in Marketing, Raaid didn’t have many people who had his back.  And we’ve all met people who say they’ll help us, but waver when time comes to act. But Ben didn’t waver. He told Raaid he would vouch for him, and he backed his words up publicly.

“I remember how I felt when I got Ben’s LinkedIn recommendation.  It was my birthday. And the recommendation was the best birthday gift.”

I fact-checked him on this.  Yup, the recommendation came in on his birthday, Feb 27th. Ben had Raaid’s back when Raaid needed someone the most: in the early days.  As a mentor now, Raaid pays it forward by helping those who are just getting started on their journeys, especially those who do not have many people looking out for them.

He knows that his actions as a mentor, however small in his eyes, can be pivotal for a mentee.

He’s experienced the impact first-hand.

Short-term mentors often go undiscussed and unthanked. I urge you to think back to mentors you may have had, for a year, a couple months, or even just a few weeks.  Think about the lessons you learned during those interactions, and how those lessons have served you.

And pay it forward by serving as a short-term mentor to someone else. Another beauty of short-term mentors: they can impact more people.

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