Once a person turns 25, the most predictive factor in how successful they’ll be at work is how well they’re able to surround themselves with mentors. Which means that people need to develop the skill of getting mentors during their school years. Unfortunately, the best ways to learn these skills for getting a mentor are completely impossible to learn in regular school.

1. Ask good questions to get good mentors.
I took this photo of my son when he was skate boarding with a bunch of older kids and then asked one to tie his shoe. I loved the moment because it’s the little boy version of the vulnerability and determination you need to rope in a helper.

An important objective in getting a mentor is get the mentor interested. A mentor feels important if they’re giving information in their expertise because it makes them feel special. Broad questions that could go to anybody are not nearly as interesting as the specific questions which will be fresh to the mentor.

School teaches kids to answer questions. And kids are rewarded for knowing the answer themselves. This means not only do they not develop the skills for asking questions, they are trained to feel stupid asking questions instead of just answering them.

2. We need mentors most when we’re lost.
The key to asking a good question is to pinpoint the area in your life where you’re lost. Somewhere where you feel stuck and don’t know which way to turn, even though you know it’s time to move somewhere. School prevents kids from having any of these moments, because school is about education systems and, if nothing else, thirty lost kids and one teacher would be mayhem.

The art of getting a mentor actually comes right at the heel of the art of being lost. First, you find comfort in being lost, and then you feel powerful asking for help.

3. Finding a mentor requires casting a large net.
I’m always shocked at how surprised other adults are to see my kids out during the day. They always ask my kids questions: Are you sick? Are you off from school? Are you on vacation? What is homeschooling like? What do you do all day? Do you like it? Adults are happy to interact with kids, but there is very little time to do so. Kids are locked away from almost all adults for eight hours a day.

Finding a mentor is a lot like dating.You have to talk to a lot of people to find the ones that are going to work. Kids who grow up in classrooms don’t get the experience of interacting with adults with the purpose of keeping both parties interested in the conversation. Kids know teachers are paid. And teachers know kids they can give quick, not particularly useful answers, but that they have to give something.

The give and take of the mentoring relationship is an adult interaction that has to be learned. People worry about whether their kids will have a bright future out of school. Mentoring is one more way that research points to the benefit of taking kids out of school outweighing the alternative when it comes to leading a happy, productive life.

6 replies
    • LJS
      LJS says:

      It can’t be unschooling if it was never taught in school isn’t it?

      Excellent advice indeed. I wish I had such lessons.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Don’t print it. Make it an online book with lots of infographics and videos.
      Your kids and other unschoolers should be in it to talk about their experiences and how they do it.

  1. flatlander
    flatlander says:

    Mentorship is ingrained in certain cultures. In academia it is part of the landscape. It is very easy for undergraduates to find mentor relationships if they are willing to act like graduate students, by doing a little independent reading that coincides with their interests, and then seeking out a professor with related interests. Very few undergraduates avail themselves of that opportunity.

    The military is another culture where mentorship is a normal part of the landscape, and to seek mentorship is the main ingredient to finding it. One advantage of spending some time in the military is the likelihood of learning a lot about leadership faster, because of that culture.

    In business it is much trickier, because there are no such norms, and so you have to work much harder to find the opportunities for mentorship and then luck is often involved.

  2. Mel
    Mel says:

    Oh how I wish I had learned how to get a mentor. And to ask good questions. I am definitely the result of an education. Of course, I could figure it out now, but I wish I had had those kind of experiences as a kid. I’m glad my kids will have those kinds of opportunities.

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