Everyone needs a mentor - but not everyone knows how to find one or how to find the right one.

 

Here is my story...

After graduating from the University of Washington, where I had spent four of the most incredible years of my life, I was ready to start the next chapter. As much as I had enjoyed living the glamorous life of a college student, I couldn’t have been more excited to start my career as a management and technology consultant and see what being a successful adult was all about.

I had this image in my head of what this new lifestyle would entail - it was comprised of a combination of storylines from House of Lies, Suits, and Sex and the City. I thought I would work in a high-performing pod for someone like Marty Kaan, develop the wit of Harvey Specter, and have the wardrobe and dating life of Carrie Bradshaw.  

Imagine my disappointment when I showed up on my first day and found none of those things (the one exception is that I do work with high performers, in fact some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met). I was immediately staffed on a project and was fairly warned that I would feel like I was ‘drinking from a fire hose.’ Long story short, I was in way over my head. The project was incredibly challenging, and I felt paralyzed by the fear that my mistakes would reflect poorly on not only my credibility but also my company.

I was heartbroken. My self confidence disappeared over night, I felt demoralized more than empowered, and my health started to decline. The rainy Seattle days and dark, grey clouds did not help either. Even though I was struggling, I chose to stay silent. When people asked me how I was liking my new job, I would fight back tears, put on a smile, and deliver a rehearsed line I thought they wanted to hear. I was so scared of being honest, because I thought perception was reality. If my boss and colleagues perceived me as someone who couldn’t handle the stress or pressure, I was certain that my career would be ruined.

About three months in when I couldn’t hide my pain any longer, people at my company started reaching out. They pulled me aside, asked me how I was really doing, and spent time coaching me through strategic conversations, shared helpful tricks to do my work more accurately and efficiently, and passed on personal and professional advice that I still live by today.

It was incredibly generous. Thank goodness for them, because I gained perspective on what was normal versus what was circumstantial about the behaviors of the people I was working with and the complexities of the project. If I had only voiced my concerns earlier on, I would have received this mentorship and coaching in real-time and saved myself a lot of heartache.

Fast forwarding to today, I just celebrated my three-year work anniversary with the same company and was recently promoted to Senior Consultant. Through the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows that I’ve experienced over the past three years, I’ve learned how important it is to actively seek mentorship and take ownership of that process. I was lucky in my earlier days that there were people who reached out to me without me having to initiate. However, that will not always be the case. Now, whenever I am struggling or want a reason to celebrate a milestone, I reach out to my mentors. Whether it’s my older sister and family members, colleagues at work, or friends, I have a board of people that have a vested interest in my success, and most importantly my happiness.  

So where has all this insight led me to?

This past year, I took a look around and noticed that everyone around me was in a state of transition. Let’s call it a ‘quarter life crisis.’ Whether I was at brunch with girlfriends, catching up over coffee with colleagues, or mentoring young women at work, everyone seemed to be concerned about the next stage in their lives and didn’t know how to be intentional about their next step.

This felt all too familiar.

Because of my past experiences, I couldn’t sit back and watch the people I care about most suffer in silence. I felt compelled to do something.

Several months ago, I launched my mentorship program called ‘Executives on the Rise,’ aiming to connect executives with aspiring, ambitious women. This past September, I organized a ladies night where I invited Kelly Weber, someone who I greatly admire, to come speak about mentorship, life, career, and everything in between.

  Left: Kelly Weber; Right: Julia Ko

Left: Kelly Weber; Right: Julia Ko

I first met Kelly when I joined West Monroe Partners. Not only is she charismatic, beautiful, and absolutely brilliant, but she also was the only women at the senior management level in our office. I looked up to her and wanted to expose my friends to the wisdom, advice, and perspective that she always seems to deliver so gracefully (take a look at her bio at the bottom of this page!).

The event was incredible!

I invited a diverse group of women - they all come from unique backgrounds, are of various ages, and are pursuing a wide range of career paths. We started off the evening by going around and sharing the one concern that is keeping us up at night. Kelly then shared her thoughts on mentorship, who her mentors are, and the lessons she’s learned throughout her short, but very impressive career. After a riveting discussion, networking, and a Kendra Scott jewelry raffle, multiple people came up to me, sighed, and said:

“This is just what I needed.”

There were so many incredible sound bites throughout the evening, but for those of you reading this who weren’t able to join in person, here are my main takeaways:

Find a mentor that doesn’t 'look' like you. When I’ve thought about the term ‘mentor’ in the past, I’ve always associated it with a person that has an executive role in the company/industry I currently work in. For instance, as a consultant, I’ve usually looked up to managers and directors at my consulting firm. I would schedule coffee chats with them and pick their brains on the specific steps they took to get to where they are. I regarded their advice as gospel and rarely strayed from it. While these relationships are important to have in order to know the training, skills, or experiences to pursue from a tactical perspective, Kelly emphasized an important life lesson around exploring points of view that are drastically different from your own. Whether they ‘look’ physically different from you, have different religious, cultural, or political beliefs, or come from a different background, pay attention to the individuals that are truly different from you.

….you are not trying to recreate someone else or, for that matter, find someone that is just going to agree with you all the time because you have similar interests. You want to find those mentors that are going to compassionately challenge you to find the best version of yourself, and at the same time, hold the space for you to grow on your own without forcing their own path.
— Kelly Weber, Guest Speaker

A mentor doesn’t have to be a physical person. Mentorship doesn’t always have to happen face-to-face. Leverage books, documentaries, podcasts, and whatever you’re currently inspired by. Some of my favorite go-to’s include (click on the images to learn more):

  • The Conversation - this interview series by Amanda de Cadenet is filled with rich commentary on what it means to be a woman today, how to feel fulfilled from deep within, and the dangers of comparison.
  • Marie Forleo - I discovered Marie Forleo completely by accident. I was looking up interviews of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, because I wanted to learn about her new book, Big Magic. Marie did an interview with Elizabeth, and I soon found myself watching the rest of her videos on her Youtube channel. Her content is geared toward entrepreneurs, but her advice is applicable no matter what your chosen career path is.
  • The Skimm - I greatly admire the founders of this email newsletter. Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin took one of the oldest industries - news - and created a lifestyle brand for female millennials. Besides reading the Skimm during my morning commute, I consistently check in on their entrepreneurial journey.    

Here are some of Kelly's picks (click on the images to learn more):

A mentor doesn’t have to be an executive; you can find mentorship amongst your peers or even in someone that is younger. Mentorship doesn’t automatically imply a certain hierarchy. Some of the most meaningful advice I’ve received came from my peers and colleagues, some of which are younger than me. For instance, I regularly check in with the ladies in my start class at work. We get together to vent, laugh, and especially this past year talk about the strategic steps each of us were taking to get promoted. In addition, one of my closest friends Melissa is in dental school, and she reminds me that no matter how stressed out I am, I always need to remember to take care of myself. Whether that means making time to exercise, doing something fun with friends, or taking a half hour and getting a manicure. These little things help keep a person sane!

Understand the power of reciprocity. Asking for help is always intimidating. The challenge with starting a relationship with someone you want to become your mentor is that if they have achieved any level of success, it usually means they’re busy. I used to always feel guilty about requesting time from people. I would reach out and use my go to line which was, “can I pick your brain about...” and hope that they would squeeze me into their packed schedule. However, I soon realized that the problem with my approach was that I was going to them with an ask without offering anything in return. Especially when you’re young, it’s difficult to find ways to make these types of professional relationships mutually beneficial. But this is where reciprocity comes in. Kelly had great advice around how to add value with what you already have. When you’ve identified a potential mentor, think about what their needs are, what your skills and talents are, and find the intersection. For instance, if you admire an author, buy their books and interact with them on social media. Retweet their tweets, regram their Instagrams, etc. If you want to build a stronger relationship with a manager at your company, ask what they need help with that they haven’t found time to do. Take ownership of extra projects and show them the skills, energy, and creativity you can offer.

Kelly’s ability to take any situation and turn it into an opportunity for learning and growth is truly inspiring. Her perspective on/experience with mentorship should serve as an example to other passionate women to go after what they want!
— Alexa Brnilovich, Marketing Strategist at Crown Social Agency

Toward the end of the event, Kelly made a point that particularly resonated with me. It was her point around passion.

Find your passion!

We hear this phrase on repeat, and as a result it has become a euphemism that overwhelms and intimidates us more than helps us. The last time I remember being truly passionate about something was when I was 12 and believed in my heart of hearts that I was going to be a professional ballerina (I couldn’t even do the splits).

These days, between balancing my career, friends, family, and the minimal ‘me’ time I have on a daily basis, I don’t have the mental or physical capacity to discover my life’s calling. So, I just get discouraged and continue envying those rare individuals who have actualized their childhood dreams into paying jobs.

So here’s some food for thought.

Rather than find your passion, explore your curiosity.

If there is a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Go try it! Meet the owner, pay attention to the decor, and learn about the head chef’s specialties. If there is a city you’ve always wanted to visit, plan your vacation and take the trip! Identify the things you want to do and learn, no matter how obscure, and be intentional about the lessons and experiences you want to walk away with.

Hearing a room full of young women open up about the challenges they face, and personally identifying with every single one, was a powerful reminder that we aren’t alone – and that strength comes from the support of one another.
— Karen Wisniewski, Digital Strategy Consultant at WMP

Ultimately, take whatever catches your attention, and explore it one step further than you normally would. Eventually, you’ll find that all the data points will line up to a few, main themes. This is how you find your passion. 

I think we can all agree that being young, especially in your late teens and early twenties, is incredibly overwhelming - we’re all experiencing some type of change, whether it’s graduating from high school/college, redefining our relationships with friends, family, boyfriends, and girlfriends, or moving to a new city to start the next chapter of our lives. Ultimately, we’re all on a quest to find our identities, which for many of us is significantly defined by the career trajectories we set for ourselves.

I leave you with this - if you have doubts, questions, concerns, or fears, don’t suffer in silence. Realize that your circumstance, although it may seem unique to you, is one that may possibly be shared by someone else. No matter how different we appear on the surface, the human experience is incredibly consistent. Thus, seek the mentorship, advice, and guidance that can lift some of the weight off your shoulders and can most certainly help you live life in a more fulfilling, joyful, and intentional way.

This is what mentorship means to me, and I hope that these insights will do something for you!


SPECIAL THANKS:


MEET KELLY WEBER:

With over 12 years of management consulting experience, Kelly has served organizations of all sizes leading business transformation engagements with a focus and passion in change strategy & leadership, people development, and delivery excellence. Named in 2015 as Consulting Magazine’s Rising Star for Leadership – the best 35 consultants under 35 – Kelly has been awarded for her natural ability to bring people together and for having the managerial courage, combined with a tenacious spirit, to lead and inspire others.

Energized by people with passion, work with meaning, and human connections, Kelly is the proud owner of Found Staffing Agency (Found), a women-owned change recruiting and staffing agency based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and founder of The Wander Project, a leadership and strengths-based coaching practice focused on maximizing potential in others – from executive leaders, to high potentials, to emerging talent.

One of the first Certified Change Management Professionals (CCMP™), Kelly is also Board President of the Pacific Northwest Regional Chapter of the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP), the most respected global community advancing the discipline of change management. Kelly also supports the American Cancer Society (ACS), serving as the former co-Chairman for the Seattle Hope Gala and now Legacy Circle Ambassador, as well as supporting Patagonia’s 1% for the Planet movement through volunteer efforts.

Newly married (formerly known as Kelly Hamski!), Kelly lives in Seattle, WA with her husband, Jeremy. Together they enjoy traveling the world, healthy living, and hiking the great outdoors.