09 May Guiding the Way: The Value of Mentorship
Guess what folks? For this blog I get to sit back, feet up on my desk and slurp down a nice long gulp of an imaginary margarita, while someone else sweats out the details of the blog. That’s right! Guest blogger time! Wahoo!
Evidently other people write these things too, and I’m extremely honored to have Aubrey Collins pen the article below. Aubrey and I have been ping-ponging ideas and discussions regarding blog articles and social media for a few months now, so it was only natural that she gets a turn driving my car, so to speak. I know some of you might be disappointed that I’m not sharing some tidbit about running a t-shirt shop, or the latest idea in lint technology, but I’m sure you’ll get over it quickly once you discover Aubrey’s fine prose below.
By the way, my suggestion for the article title was “Better Value Through Procrastination”, which I wrote at the last minute. Her suggestion is much better, as it has 100% less snarkiness and even double that in class. Lastly, I’ll bet you will be as blown away by her article as I was, especially if you’ve ever thought about participating in a mentoring program or tried writing a blog article or three. Thanks Aubrey!
From the time I started in the promotional products industry, I’ve been on the supplier side of a niche product. This meant that from the beginning, I knew the ins and outs of my line, but some days I had a hard time wrapping my head around all the complexities of an industry that is intricate on its best days and overwhelming on its worst.
Thankfully such a complicated industry also has plenty of resources, and I made sure to take advantage of them, most recently giving PromoKitchen’s mentorship program a test drive.
How The Program Works
Okay, test drive is totally the wrong term because the program is a six-month venture that the good folks at PromoKitchen offer to promotional products professionals to help individuals — and the industry on a whole — succeed.
Since PromoKitchen is dedicated to giving back and paying it forward, this program involves industry veterans donating their time to provide coaching and guidance for free. Yes, for free.
The process is simple. Fill out a form. Chat with a program coordinator. Get matched up with someone who can meet your needs. Chat again to make sure it’s a good fit. And go.
I was paired with a kind mentor who was generous with his time and career knowledge and whose frank approach helped me get over a hump I didn’t even realize I was stuck on. You guessed it; this mentor was the one, the only, Marshall Atkinson.
Why You Should Do It
When I signed up for the program, I was more than a dozen years into my career and several years into the industry. Since I wasn’t a newcomer or a novice, I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of it.
All the articles, webinars, and TEDtalks in the world can’t offer you the same benefits one-on-one focused time with a person dedicated to helping you can provide.
What I Learned
Struggles are universal. Marshall and I are in two totally different aspects of the industry where specifics are different. However, in business, many of the struggles people experience are the same. While we may have different clients and target audiences, like most people in business, we’re both looking to stand out in a crowded market, aiming to offer the best product and customer experience possible, and trying to silence that little voice inside of us that tells us what we are doing isn’t good enough.
It’s okay to ask for help. We can’t do it all alone, and we shouldn’t. Work is hard enough. Don’t make it worse by trying to figure things out on your own when you’d be better off to ask someone’s opinion on a new product or service or for assistance in solving a problem that’s plaguing you. Seeking help doesn’t make you weak or inept. It makes you smart, savvy, and someone dedicated to personal development and progress, not bound by a fragile ego.
Develop a process. If you have a map, even if you get lost, you at least have a way to get back on the path. The same can be said for developing a process and sticking to it. Marshall shared a lot of his method with me, from how he writes, where he gets his ideas, how he structures his posts, how he promotes his posts, software and apps he uses, and more. He developed his routine over time, evaluates it regularly, and changes it when necessary.
Stick to it. Consistency is key. Every Saturday morning, I can guarantee that as I’m drinking my coffee and playing with my daughter, my phone will ding and — like clockwork — an email with Marshall’s post will enter it. We talked at length about sticking to whatever schedule you set, respecting your own deadlines and not overworking things so much that you’re entirely sick of them before you even put them out into the world. Game changer.
Perfection is not possible. (And that’s okay.) For being an easygoing person, I get pretty bent out of shape about making mistakes. When I am feeling vulnerable, my past errors cling to me like an albatross, hindering my progress. Marshall was frank in his assertion that you can’t let a fear of failure hold you back in putting things out to your audience. In his words: “Some will be great, some will be ok, some will suck. Picasso painted over 1,000 paintings, but I’ll bet you only know a few. It’s ok.” Remembering that mistakes are inevitable, perfection is largely futile, and done is better than perfect saves a lot of time — and anguish.
Introspection is essential. When I entered the mentorship program, I was hoping to learn more about the industry, partly for personal development and partly to find new ways to relate to the challenges of my customers. I did not realize I would learn just as much — if not more — about myself. I learned that, in many ways, I was getting in my own way and holding myself back. Being totally honest with ourselves about why we do (or don’t do) certain things is hard to admit, but this self-awareness is what will propel you forward.
Mentorship has no age limits. Mentorship is helpful no matter where you are in your career. Even if you are decades in, it doesn’t mean you don’t have anything new to learn. Conversely, if you feel lacking in one area, it doesn’t mean you aren’t an expert in another. While, in this situation, I benefitted greatly as a mentee, I know I also have knowledge that I can (and plan to) pass on as a mentor. Plus, by nature, mentorship is symbiotic; you will learn something regardless of your side in the relationship and you’ll develop a relationship that can continue to serve you both over time.
Bottom line: No matter who you are, role you serve at your company, and whether you enter the program as a mentor or a mentee, you will benefit from mentorship even more than you can imagine.
I have only one regret — that I didn’t do it sooner.
Aubrey Collins is the Director of Marketing and Communications at MediaTree, the leading supplier of branded digital entertainment cards. She fell in love with the promotional products industry in 2011 and has vowed never to leave since the moment she walked by the Moleskine booth at her first PPAI Expo.
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