I have been a mentee more times than I can count. Before coming to work at Cox, I thought mentoring was a joke. I participated every time the opportunity presented itself, but I never felt like I got much out of it. Does anyone else relate to that?
I came to Cox nervous and worried about what the future held for me. My previous job was a complete train wreck, and I didn't fit in. Before that, I spent nearly ten years at a company that felt like home. It was my comfort zone, and leaving there was scary. I knew that if I wanted to be happy and feel like Cox was my home, I would need to jump in and get involved. It was right around that time that a new mentoring program kicked off, so I applied to be a mentee.
The universe must have aligned just right because they paired me with Kristin Peck, the VP of Public Affairs in my region. Kristin helped me rebuild my confidence. Her advice and insights allowed me to break down barriers and plan for the future. She saw potential in me that I had forgotten. Ultimately, she became my first sponsor. Kristin put my name forward and recommended that I join the board of two nonprofits, and I served as the chair for the market engagement team in Tulsa for two years. There are many other things she indirectly helped me achieve. One of the questions Kristin asked me changed the way I think about career planning. She asked, "What job do you want to have when you retire?" It's not a question to answer. The important part is that you think about the possible answers because how will you get somewhere if you don't know where you're going? Thinking about the job you want to retire from will help you find your career ladder.
Another of my mentors at Cox told me that I needed to stop saying yes to everything. He helped me plot out my 3-year plan to quickly see which things I should continue to say yes to and which ones I should pass on. If it isn't on my career ladder or lattice, then I shouldn't say yes because that would mean I'm taking the opportunity away from someone else. It was one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned because I believed that if someone asked me to do something that I could do, I should do it. As a result, I had a habit of raising my hand too often. At times, this habit led to me taking on too much, feeling overwhelmed, under pressure to accomplish my commitments. Learning to say no was one of the most challenging and equally beneficial things I've ever done. Now I can do things I want, like toastmasters.
The most amazing experience I've had as a mentee happened because of WICT. I applied for the techconnect mentoring program solely because I wanted to go to New York and couldn't afford both the trip and the tickets to the leadership conference. I found out that acceptance into the program came with free registration to the conference, so I said, "sign me up!" I had no expectations when I first submitted my application. When I received the email that said I was accepted, I couldn't even contain my excitement. Just when I thought things couldn't get better, I found out that my mentor was the VP of Engineering at Comcast! It felt like a match made in heaven. Not only did I get my trip to New York, but I learned so much from my mentor. It was a pivotal moment for my personal and professional growth. I walked away from that program with a new zest for my job, big goals and a plan for how to reach them. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will cherish forever.
Mentoring is a fundamental part of career progression. It is not easy, though, especially as the mentee. It is a lot of work to be a mentee. A mentor can't help you if you don't know what you need help with or where you need to improve. It is what you make of it. If you put in the work, you will reap the rewards. I still have several mentors, and it's great because they each have different strengths and bring those strengths to the table. Each time we meet is another opportunity for me to adopt some of their best practices that make me a better version of myself. I've gained so much from mentoring relationships that now I try to pay it forward. I usually have at least one mentee, and that opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It also gives me the chance to implement some of the things I've learned and pass on what works for me. That in itself is a kind of learning and development. The type of development that builds leadership skills that are necessary for nearly any promotion.
There are a variety of mentoring programs available, both formal and informal. If you have your eye on a job you are interested in, reach out to someone in that organization, foster a relationship with them, and then leverage that into informal mentoring. There are multiple options. You need to find the one that works for you and get started. What do you have to lose?