Be your own mentor

No one is coming to save you.

[Cue panic and running around in circles.]

I remember the first time I realized no one knew the right answer. It was simultaneously alarming and liberating.

Heck, I sat ten feet away from the most famous marketer in the world.

One day, we were discussing growth strategies. He stopped and said, “Wes, you should decide. I don’t have the answer. If I did, I’d just tell you."

Up until then, I thought our usual rigorous line of questioning was his way of teaching me to have a stronger point of view. Kind of like the Socratic method, if Socrates were a battle-hardened Navy SEAL in Special Ops.

“Oh God,” I thought. “If he didn’t have the right answers, who would? What hope do any of us have?”

 

If you’re building something new, even gurus don't have the answer

We were working on building something new that no one had done before: at least, not the way we were doing it, at that price point, with our levers and assets, with the ambitious results we were aiming hard for.

I was using every tool in my toolbox. Every framework, mental model, and experience from a decade of marketing. But some days, all the uncertainty and experimentation felt like being punched in the face—and waking up to do it all over again.

Subconsciously, I was hoping someone out there might have the right answer.

It's tempting to think someone out there knows better than you do. A lot of people even hold out on major decisions until they can meet their hero and ask them what to do.

I hate to break it to you, but even they don’t the right answer. Even if someone WANTED to be your mentor, they might not be able to give you what you’re looking for… if what you’re looking for is certainty that you’re working on the right thing and it’ll be a success.

 

When to consider mentoring yourself

Instead of dreaming of finding the perfect mentor, it’s much better to start mentoring yourself.

Mentoring yourself is useful in these situations:

  1. You're in a role where you can’t explain everything to people who otherwise might give you good advice. It’s not a good use of time to spend 30 minutes explaining backstory every time you need advice.

  2. The nature of your work is confidential. It wouldn’t be prudent to share the details or your work, details that your peers would need in order to fully understand.

  3. You’re in a situation where your peers haven’t quite faced the same thing yet. They’ll soon realize the challenges you’re going through, but right now, their advice comes from a distance.

You’re in your own head already—you might as well learn to have better conversations with yourself. (Bonus: You don’t even have to find a calendar time or set up a Zoom link.)

 

Channel your heroes

In recent years, I learned to coach myself, and I think you should give it a try too. You already have a lot of voices in your head: the authors you read, the real-life mentors you’ve had, the coaches you’ve worked with in the past, your smart boss or peers. Channel their voices.

“If I explained my situation to ___, what would they ask me? What would they tell me to consider?”

It might sound strange to intentionally talk to yourself like a coach/mentor would talk to you. But if you ask any good teacher, they want you to be able to live without them. The holy grail is when you say to yourself what your teacher would have said to you.

 

"If I were truly on my own, what would I do?"

Having sounding boards is fantastic. I wouldn't be where I am today without the brilliant people I surround myself with that give me great counsel.

At the same time, I  admit there are moments when relying on asking others for gut checks can be a crutch. You think, "I should just ask them real quick, right?"

A good way around this is to ask yourself what you'd do if you were alone. Truly, utterly alone. Trick your brain for a second and see what ideas you come up with. Chances are, after you pick what to do and do it, you'll think, "Oh, that wasn't so bad. That really wasn't a big deal."

You won’t improve on every issue from mentoring yourself. But if you try, you’ll get further than you think. The journeys that matter most rarely come with a map. When you learn to mentor yourself, you become the kind of person other people seek for mentorship.

 

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Wes Kao