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How to Begin
All it takes to establish your availability for /mentoring is putting a few lines of text on the internet. If you're up for it, you might want to create a whole separate page, but a sidebar works too—or even just an individual post. If you'd like to set up a quick /mentoring page and you're on Tumblr, I've had great luck with their Pages feature. The most important part is just expressing your availability in whatever way makes the most sense to you and requires the least activation energy. Beginning, not formatting, is what matters.
Once you've set up your page, you can request to join the /mentoring mailing list. I hope you do! It's where we'll share experiences & best practices, and work together to get better at mentoring.
You're welcome to use the /mentoring template I created based on the current version of my page at http://dianakimball.com/mentoring. Please feel free to take as much or as little as you'd like; my goal is just to remove one more barrier to beginning.
Some great examples of how people have built on the template:
http://patrickewing.info/mentoring Patrick's personal account of why he's mentoring is a warm and open invitation to get in touch. I also love his "getting started" note at the bottom of the page, where he shares how to get involved in /mentoring.
http://kvans.squarespace.com/mentoring/ Karina took her page as an opportunity to express availability for mentoring and interest in being mentored. Framing it as a two-way invitation opens the door to even more serendipity.
http://nickd.org/mentoring/ Nick's list of experiences includes not only accomplishments, but also process. The straightforward design of the page also really works.
http://idlethink.wordpress.com/mentoring/ Like Nick, Rachel illuminates both accomplishments and process in her list of experiences. The invitation is both specific and broad: "I am passionate about reading, and about learning how to learn from books. If that last clause makes sense to you, I probably want to hear from you."
http://geemus.com/mentoring Wesley wrote his page from scratch, while keeping the intent and the format the same.
As more people set up their pages, I look forward to sharing them here! A complete list of everyone who's tweeted about their /mentoring pages can be found in the retweets on the @mentoring account on Twitter.
So, Someone Writes to Me. What Next?
Let's say that you've set up your /mentoring page and you've linked to it prominently and enthusiastically. (Doing so will definitely help spread the message!) Now what? Well, you wait for a while; you may find that many emails arrive, or you may find that they arrive only very infrequently. When they do arrive, though, you'll want to decide what to do about them.
The way you handle /mentoring depends deeply on your own goals in making yourself available. If you're looking to "pay forward" advice and guidance you've been given in a lightweight way, simple email correspondences might be the trick. If you find yourself receiving really extraordinary letters from people, you might want to suggest more in-depth mentoring relationships to a few of them. I'll address a few points along that spectrum below.
Depending on the role you play in your career and life, you may find that people regularly write to you seeking similar sorts of advice and reassurance. If anything, this is a positive: it means that you have a well-defined role in the world and that people know what to come to you for. If you find that there's great desire for your specific story of how you came to be a designer (or a coder, or anything else), how you handled a difficult decision in your career or life, or how you organize your daily work, you might decide that it makes sense to publish those thoughts publicly and simply point people there. This can be a great and scalable way to share your experience.
One-Off Personal Guidance
When you invite people to contact you for /mentoring, you also have an opportunity to structure the interaction. My approach is to ask people about their hopes and goals right from the beginning, since once those are on the table, almost every interaction has the potential to be rewarding and fulfilling. Many people are likely to write seeking guidance or reassurance in a particular transition or decision they're making. Engaging with these authentically and briefly is a completely valid outlet for /mentoring.
In-Depth, Ongoing /Mentoring
In certain extraordinary instances of correspondence, you may feel that spark of resonance. That spark is worth following, and certainly worth exploring over a slightly more involved correspondence.
The first time this happens, you'll have the opportunity to set a tone and a pattern for the way you engage as a mentor. Here are some ideas, but your decision will be as individual as your mentoring relationship.
- If the two of you are geographically distant: set up a preliminary video chat or phone call to get your bearings and have an honest discussion about what you both hope to get out your mentoring relationship. Wherever possible, follow the other person's lead while still setting clear expectations for your availability and level of engagement.
- If you're geographically close to one another, or crossing paths soon (for an upcoming conference or business trip, for instance)—meet for coffee or ice cream and talk about your lives. Much of the value of being a mentor comes simply from listening, so leave room for a lot of that.
- If the person you've chosen to mentor seems eager to learn more about your field: test the waters by offering the opportunity to read a book together. If you feel moved to, you may even consider sending a book (e- or otherwise) as a gift. Reading and discussing texts together can be surprisingly meaningful, and provides a good opportunity to explore more complex topics together. Mutual discovery is an incredible engine for connection.
The best resource I've read on mentee-driven mentoring is this post by Ian McAllister:
I highly recommend reading it and sharing it with your mentor or mentee close to the beginning of your work together.
What if things get complicated?
Humans are complicated, so things sometimes get complicated, too. While /mentoring is more a constellation than an organization, I do hope we can all learn from and support one another. If you find yourself in a complex situation, please feel free to contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to help you think through it or find someone else who can.