This is part two of a four-part series about adversity and how we surmount difficult challenges. Last time, I described the need to develop the ability to engage in objective assessment of both ourselves and the difficult professional and personal situations that we encounter. Assessment, however, is only the first step. As a general rule, humans are social beings. While many of us crave quiet moments and “alone time,” it is not in most people’s nature to remain solitary all of the time.
Yet, when we find ourselves in those moments of fear and inaction—times when we feel like we have to start over and have no idea where to begin—too many among us withdraw. Rather than seeking help from our friends and our peers, our instincts may cause us to feel that we are completely alone.
When I was young, and really even today, Fred Rogers was one of my heroes. During one particular interview for the Archive of American Television, he famously talked about positive influencers within his community:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
Look for the helpers. That has always stuck with me, throughout my life. In truth, we are rarely alone so long as we consciously choose not to be. In times of adversity, look around. Are there people with you, standing by you? Can you see who they are? If not, then ask yourself why, because I will bet that for most people in most situations, the helpers are there.
For our purposes, the helpers may take many different forms. They could be family, friends, professional advisors, or even spiritual ones. Their identities and roles in our lives will differ from person to person, and from one challenge to the next. More importantly, I argue that for overcoming major challenges, we need to seek out those who can provide more than generic love and support. Friendship, no matter how heartfelt, is simply not enough. Like taking an ibuprofen or an antacid, love may ease the pain of personal or professional challenge; it will not solve the problem.
The helpers that we seek will be our mentors. These are the people who are truly able to empathize with our struggles because they have been there. They have faced, and survived, that major upheaval in the technology landscape or job market. They have undertaken and succeeded in (or failed at) the new roles that we that we are about to pursue. They have struck out on their own and started a business. They have suffered through personal tragedy and come out the other side on their feet.
Mentor relationships provide a special and unique construct. Our mentor may start out or become a friend, or may not. But in all cases, the mentor is an advisor, a trusted confidante. This is because a proper mentoring relationship involves a leader who already knows some of the steps. Mentors have experienced similar challenges, have been through their own objective assessments, have seen much, and know many of the pitfalls and the potential avenues to success. For these same reasons, most people need to develop many diverse mentoring relationships. Just as each major obstacle is different, so too must the individual providing support and guidance change.
It is important to recognize that a successful mentorship is a two-way street. It is, after all, a relationship. We have to be prepared to give of ourselves, to share our thoughts, our goals, and our fears. As one seeking guidance, we should strive to make ourselves emotionally available. We must be willing to engage and accept help in order for others to be able to assist us. No doubt this in itself is a difficult challenge; it is certainly very difficult for me. But I can speak from experience when I say, it is worth it. A healthy relationship with a mentor is worth its weight in gold.
Once we have started establishing good relationships with our mentors, it is equally important to become mentors ourselves! And I strongly encourage everyone to do this long before the adversity has been tackled and set aside. So long as we have begun taking steps to solve our problems, we are ready to make ourselves available to others.
To be clear, this suggestion is far more than an appeal to the better part of our collective humanity. The act of taking on mentees of our own may prove as beneficial as the act of getting advice from our mentors. A close friend (and one of my own mentors) likes to say, “We teach what we need to learn.” I would take this a step further and assert that we often learn best through teaching and cooperative experiences.
Interpersonal relationships are among our greatest assets. Seek them out! Develop them. As with most worthwhile things, building lasting and meaningful relationships is not easy. But when the day is done, I believe that it is easier than going it alone
In the next part of this series, we will ponder what to do when opportunity knocks. (Spoiler alert: You walk through the door!)