As a human who knows all too well the pace and pain of balancing the exponential needs of four young daughters with the demands of building two startups, time is the most valuable currency I trade these days.
But truth be told, some days I’m humming like a drone.
Others I’m dropping like a stone.
It is not that my portfolio juggle is exceptional, because yes – we are all busy and have to-do lists that grow like fungus. (And it is all my fault. Really. I get it. This is what I chose. And choose.)
But the reality is there are only so many hours in any given day, and so the opportunity cost of time ill-spent down an email black hole or in zero-outcome meetings means I’ve had to become more discerning about how I will and won’t spend my time packets – and who I go to for advice.
This is easier said than done given I’m caught in the whirlwind vortex of startups, which means my work can quickly dial up from manageable to completely and utterly insane without the grace of prior notice! (This is what we entrepreneurs sign up for, right? Like moths to a flame … 😉
But as any entrepreneur would know, in startups your to-do is actually never done, and there is often a switching cadence to your work pace, projects and priorities which means you’re frequently leap-frogged into scary territory that often sits way outside of your deep T expertise or domain scope. You can go from waving to drowning over and over in the same tide.
To navigate these leaps and troughs, I’ve had to reach out to others who are far smarter and more experienced than me in business strategy, marketing and growth pathways (plenty and often!), and seek advice on when enough work is enough (a hard call in startup land where high burnout is ubiquitous and 70% of entrepreneurs report mental health concerns).
But my story is not unique. Like many founders of my generation raising businesses and babies, finding true balance and knowing when to flick the switch from hungry startup to hungry family can sometimes be a challenge (especially when said family is IN YOUR FACE 24/7 during this home isolation period. We have not yet resorted to Hunger Games tactics but we actually might by May).
Occasionally, I do get the mix of work and play just right, and other times all wrong. Mostly I wing it anyway, and remind myself that balance isn’t static, and life – especially right now in COVID-19 times – is a continuum of change within which we are all charting our course and adjusting our sails constantly – some days are rough and tough, others blue-skied and calm (both personally and professionally).
But in the mix of all the change and challenges of building girledworld and now Future Amp, there has always been one constant for me. I have always carved out time for providing mentorship, and for being mentored.
Steven Spielberg said “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
Indeed, it is through the receipt of active mentorship that we can hold a mirror to ourselves and come face to face with our pressure points, blindspots – and our latent, unrealised potential. And this can make all the difference to our success trajectory.
It is directly because I have been fortunate enough to have lived the benefit of active mentorship that I have been empowered and guided and able to achieve what we have so far. We have stacks more to do. But daily, I still draw on the support and experience of my mentor caucus to stay afloat, accelerate our opportunities and make better business choices. In fact some of the best decisions I’ve ever made were co-shaped with mentors.
But mentors can sometimes take a while to find. There is no one size fits all, and mentoring at its best is about cultivating positive and rewarding two-way human-to-human relationships, which can take a bit of time to nurture. (Listen to This Working Life with Lisa Leong, where I joined her to discuss The Power of A Good Mentor and tips on how to find one).
It was apparently Isaac Newton who said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Certainly, some of the most successful founders I know have attributed regular mentoring to their success, and say that by putting themselves and their vulnerabilities out there and building a trusted group of mentors around them, they have achieved far more than could ever have done on their own.
Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead has a dedicated chapter called Are You My Mentor? and in it she explores the idea of mentorship, and how to find the right mentors for your personal and professional stage.
While the book is a few years old, and we may well have moved to a Lean Out not ‘In’ world, some of her key points about mentorship are worth noting. Here’s a summary.
At its best mentorship must be:
Healthy and effective business relationships take time to nurture and develop, and often arise organically from real human connections where there is inherent mentor/mentee chemistry, authenticity and generosity. Find mentors who understand who you are, what your values, vision and purpose are, and who will then bring people into your network who share this, too.
Mentorship cuts both ways, and provides both parties with the opportunity for growth, transfer of knowledge, personal learning and professional extension. The mentor can sharpen and shape their leadership style through mentee feedback, and the mentee can also provide “grassroots intelligence” on industry insights, market intel and internal culture (access the mentor would not otherwise gain). In turn mentors can push you to your limits, challenge your thinking, strategically connect you to key stakeholders, champion your cause and actively market you and your business to amplify your message/vision.
Mentors and mentees must commit to progress, and measurable outcomes. In order for both parties to benefit most from the relationship, mentees must create actions around advice dispensed, embed key learnings, and then circle this back into the learning loop with mentors.
Great mentors don’t cut the path but light the way. The greatest learning for mentees is learning by doing, even if it means failing and floundering a few times before charting the right path. Taking autonomous steps but knowing you have someone to bounce off when the going gets hard can be just the support you need to realise your potential and better achieve your goals.
If you’ve been thinking about finding or becoming a mentor, there are multiple organisations, digital platforms and online communities offering professional mentoring services. Everwise, Mentorloop, Inspiring Rare Birds, Business Chicks and Mogul are just a few. As always, the value will likely cut both ways – in learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn.
If you’re a high school or tertiary student looking to find mentors, explore career options, and understand more about the world of work to make decisions about subjects, post-school courses and your future pathways, girledworld is delivering an online Workplace Mentoring & Employability Skills virtual program in partnership with the Victorian State Government. Get in touch to learn more about this program that gives Victorian students windows to real-world workplaces and connects them with leading females in industry across the state. (Or read this ABC article about girledworld’s work to connect female students with industry mentors, and tips on how you can find a good mentor).
Finally, anyone and everyone has something to teach and can be a mentor to someone. This includes asking your mentor how you can help them! (Don’t assume that you have nothing to offer just because you’re more junior or less experienced.) Being a mentor to others is a powerful way to pay it forward – and give back.