How to Find A Great Mentor

Yoda Mentors The Young Luke Skywalker

Yoda mentors the young Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back

By Ryan Allis

In Star Wars, Luke had one of the best mentors out there. The training with Yoda was essential in his preparation to battle Darth Vader. Yet in the real world, very few people have mentors—let alone have invested time in finding a high quality mentor. Here’s how to find and convince high quality mentors—Jedis—to help guide you to another level on your path toward making a difference in the world.

Mentorship is absolutely critical to living the life you want. Your mentors—like your friends—have a huge effect on who you become. The people who mentor you often determine which networks you’re able to able to even find out about, let alone access and become part of. A shared practice among all the highest achievers of our world I’ve ever met is that each of them had a mentor who was essential to their success, who helped them achieve much more than they thought or even knew was possible.

Even for those who do have a mentor, it’s more likely to be someone who showed up to speak to their high school class or someone they happened to already know, rather than someone they really identified and intentionally sought out as the perfect person to help them achieve what they want to achieve. And that’s part of the problem—one reason some people don’t seek out mentors is that they don’t know what they want to achieve. They haven’t written down their goals and their life-purpose. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, you’re going to achieve very little, and you’re certainly not going to proactively and purposefully seek out the advisors and mentors that you need to help you get there.

The reality is that all super-successful people are just people–and many want a chance to mentor truly exceptional young adults and students. So how do you reach out?

I often wonder why it is that people spend 16 years in school from age 5 to age 21 and usually no time seeking amazing mentors? Investing a full week or two finding a Jedi Mentor would be worth it, if you knew you could connect with someone truly amazing.


Finding a Jedi Mentor

Finding good mentors can be tough. Growing up in the suburbs of Middle America, as I did, it can be difficult to identify high-integrity, amazing, caring, competent, and smart mentors. So, how do you find the right people? Here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience:

First, go to the Internet and search for organizations that have missions you’re passionate about. See if you can find people working for those organizations who are brilliant, competent, high-integrity, and fifteen to twenty years ahead of you. Create what’s called a pipeline—a list of twenty prospects to become your potential mentors.

Once you identify these twenty potential mentors through your Internet search, existing networks, and the networks of people that you know, your job is to convince two of them—just two great, amazing people—that you are worth an investment of their time.

In my experience, adults who are really successful would love to help out more young people. I know that I would. The problem we run into is that we don’t know which people need our help the most. We don’t know who is the most motivated to actually achieve something that aligns with our life’s mission.

If I found a smart young person who persevered, who worked hard, who kept after me and really tried to get advice from me, I would absolutely give them advice. But it takes more than just an e-mail, a tweet, or one message. It takes persistence over weeks, sometimes months, to get into the network of someone who can really help you out.


How to Get Connected to Awesome Mentors

The best way to connect with people who are really busy is to get introduced to them by someone who is one of their trusted connections. People have different numbers of trusted connections. Some people have five trusted connections and some people have a couple hundred trusted connections. The key to getting the opportunity to take your prospective mentor to lunch, which is your initial goal, is to connect to them through the right person.

Most often, when someone is looking for my mentorship, I’ll get an email. It might be from an ambitious 15 or 16-year-old who says, “Ryan, I’m a young entrepreneur and I’m looking for advice,” followed by nine paragraphs of explanation and detail. And no matter how much I authentically care about helping young entrepreneurs, I don’t have time to read that. I get two or three hundred emails per day and I can’t respond with more than a sentence, if at all. If an email doesn’t come from someone who I already know and trust, who can vouch for the credibility, integrity, and work ethic of the young person seeking my advice, too often I simply will not see the email or have time to follow-up on it.

This is why it’s up to you, as someone seeking mentorship, to pursue the heck out of people until you get them to allow you to take them to lunch. Oftentimes, the way we filter people is by who’s the most persistent. By that I don’t mean who’s the most annoying, but who tries—over a series of weeks or even months—to demonstrate that they are serious. There are a lot of people in this world who talk a big game but do very little. The kind of people you will be seeking as mentors are likely to be people who want to spend their time with others who are serious and proactive. Perseverance and persistence correlate highly with seriousness.

Find someone who can vouch for you, then succinctly explain your passion, and pursue your prospective mentor until you connect with him or her, even if it takes six months. If this person is one of the twenty potential people in the world who can enable to you to achieve your dreams, there’s very little that you should allow to prevent you from being able to meet with them.


How to Get the Attention of Busy People


If you can’t find a common connection, it’s time to resort to Master Jedi tactics.

There’s one trick I have found to be really effective in getting through to important, busy people. If you really want to get someone’s attention, send them a FedEx package. Not a simple letter, but something a little bulky. As an entrepreneur and business leader, I am overwhelmed with the number of messages I get, particularly via email, and I know that most people in my position feel similarly. But important, busy people like opening bulky FedEx, UPS, and DHL packages. It’s well worth spending that $10 or $20 to get the attention of someone who otherwise simply wouldn’t have the bandwidth for you.

Let’s consider at the number of messages a busy public figure or company leader might receive on a monthly basis. These are just estimates, of course, but a busy person like myself might get 300 emails a day, which adds up to 10,000 a month. We might get 30 texts a day, which adds up to 1,000 a month. We might get three or four letters, or sometimes many more than that, every day via USPS.

But I’ll bet we get less than one FedEx package every three days—a couple a week, at best. And we may insist that those FedEx packages are given to us to open personally rather than opened by our assistants, because they often come from our loved ones or contain items we’ve asked for or ordered online.

So if you really want to get someone’s attention, send them a FedEx package. Spend a few dollars and include something that adds a little bit of dimensionality to the package, something that might be memorable. Include a brief note about who you are and specifically why you think connecting would be valuable. That’s all you need to say. If you have the person’s email address, follow up via email and simply ask them for a time that you can take them to lunch. If you don’t have their email, include yours in the note. Often, at least one out of two or three times, you’ll get a reply.

Another trick you can use to connect to busy people who are in the public eye is to send them @ messages on Twitter. To this day, I’ll get a few hundred emails a day, but I’ll only get five or six people who are @ mentioning me on Twitter. One of the things that is pretty clear about human nature is we all have some form of ego and we like to know when we’re being mentioned—particularly in news sources or social media. Take advantage of that fact to get someone’s attention.

If you can include their @ name in a message on Twitter, they’ll almost certainly see it, if not respond. If you can get them to follow you because of, perhaps, being interested in the same topics, oftentimes that @ message will go directly to a push notification on the their smartphone. What better way to get the immediate attention of someone who you’re trying to seek out as a mentor?


Be Really Persistent (Respectfully)

Most people give up after sending one or two emails because they are afraid of being annoying. But personally, I can’t keep up with every email and have to rely that people with a really good reason to get in touch with me will follow up with multiple messages if need be. The reality is: I’ll miss 30-40% (maybe 50%) of the e-mails that get sent to me. So don’t worry about sending another. Get in touch again if it really is important for you to connect. Be polite, but be persistent.

While you shouldn’t show up at the home of a prospective mentor, the office is usually fair game. Don’t hesitate to show up in the lobby and ask if you can give a message or say hello to your prospective mentor. See if you can simply wait to say hi for five minutes at the end of the day, maybe on their walk to the parking lot. As long as you’re a respectful person who is values-driven and following the Golden Rule and you’re trying to do something that will interest the other person, he or she will likely be open to that. But it’s surprising how few people are that persistent. Very few young men or women have actually tracked me down and asked to walk with me on the sixty-second trip from my office to my car. But if they did, they would have my undivided attention for that brief time. And if you’ve thought clearly and seriously about your life mission and goals, and you’ve identified a potential mentor who shares your passions, that should be enough time for you to make a good case for why you are worth an investment of their time and energy.

If someone sends me an email, a text message, a FedEx package, and a tweet; comes recommended to me by two of my trusted connections; and shows up respectfully at my office and waits to meet me, I’m definitely going to go to lunch with them. But again, it might take a month or two unless they come through the right person. So pursue the people that you want to be connected with and be very specific about why a mentoring relationship would be of interest.

If you’re not in the same geographic location as your prospective mentors, make an initial connection via a couple short emails or a FedEx package and then try this trick, which I’ve found to be very effective. Email them and say, “I’m going to be in your area next week. Could you meet?”

You’re not lying, because if they say yes to the meeting, you will make sure you are in their area, but you don’t necessarily have to have a flight booked or a trip already planned when you ask. Oftentimes, because your prospective mentor knows you are only in their city for a couple of days, they will agree to a meeting that they might otherwise say no to or postpone. But you have to be prepared to actually go if they say yes.


How to Be Prepared

Once you get the meeting, make sure you are ready. You need to know in advance what they are passionate about. Read their research. Figure out what they care about and what they’re interested in. Learn about their field. If you spend months trying to get a meeting but no time researching and doing your due diligence on the person you’re going to meet, what’s the point? When it comes to being knowledgeable and informed, aim to be in the top 5% of all the people that they’ve met in their life, regardless of your age. That will build trust. Once that initial trust is established, ask them if they would be willing to informally mentor you.

If you can talk with someone about the things that they are passionate about, particularly if you’re a young person and you’ve been persistent in getting the meeting, they will more likely than not be happy to informally mentor you.

I say “informally” because your goal should not be to get them to make a formal commitment. Busy people have too many commitments and too many obligations, and one of the things that good, values-driven, and internally aligned people try to do is not take on more commitments than they can handle. We believe in under-promising and over-delivering. However, there are a number of informal commitments that we can take on at any period of time. If I found someone who was passionate about the same thing I’m passionate about (say, development economics, East Africa, or using technology to make a difference in the world), who was smart, who had come to me from someone I knew well, who had been very persistent in getting a meeting with me, and who could talk intelligently about our mutual interests and ask good questions, I would absolutely be willing to have a telephone call with them every couple months, or at least reply to their emails.

Once your prospective mentor says yes to this informal mentorship, follow up. Send brief emails when you have questions. Go to the same networking events. Frequency and recency are the things that people remember. If you can have repetitive interactions, however brief, every month or two, that person will definitely remember you.


How to Build A Lifelong Relationship

When you’ve made the initial connection, be patient and think about the long term. You’re building a lifelong relationship. Develop that relationship over time, and really invest in it. If you’ve spent three months getting a twenty-minute meeting with the person, don’t simply try to get one particular piece of information you want and then move on. It’s not a transactional relationship. It’s about how you can both help each other in the decades to come. Ideally, as you grow older and you become more influential in your field, you will be able help that person with their own goals and dreams.

At the end of the day, one of the goals of almost every successful person as they enter the later parts of their life is to ensure their legacy continues—to ensure they can share the information and knowledge that they have gained over the years. They might do that through writing a book or making a video, but they might also be very happy to share what they know one-on-one with people they believe will carry it forward. If you can be one of those people who helps someone create their legacy, learns from them and can eventually help them, all the better.

Find someone with high integrity from whom you can learn, someone who shares your passions, and you will achieve great things. Find the right mentors, and you’ll be on track to achieve even your most ambitious goals. If you can build around you a council or “mastermind” of ten amazing people from whom you can seek advice on particular topics whenever you need it, you’ll be ahead of 99.5% of the world, if not more, in terms of your ability to execute and achieve your dreams.


Aspire to Become a Jedi

If you surround yourself with these amazing, smart, caring, high-integrity people, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Jedi. A Jedi, of course, is a term from George Lucas’s Star Wars. For those not familiar with Star Wars lore, the Jedi are a monastic order, guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, known for their wisdom and selflessness. Taken lightly, the term is a great shorthand for the kind of person I aspire to be—one that is particularly resonant in the Silicon Valley circles I move in.

I am by no means a Jedi, but I see myself as being on the path to becoming one. In Star Wars, someone who is in training to be a Jedi is called a Padawan, “an individual on a conscious journey to become a Jedi.” I see myself as a Padawan seeking to learn from many Jedis. Padawan is actually a Sanskrit term. It means “learner.” To me, a Padawan is a young, ambitious, driven, smart, competent, caring, high-integrity person who is on the path toward making a difference in the world.

As you look for mentors, set your sights high. Look for people who represent what a Jedi might mean for you, as an aspiring Padawan.

Here’s what being Jedi means to me, in our galaxy, on our planet, confronting the challenges we face:

A Jedi is a highly-competent, super-connected, and deeply compassionate soul and systems-thinker, working at the highest levels of societal structuring, whose passion has been fully unleashed toward achieving an identified, deeply meaningful mission that awakens them with extraordinary focus and immense energy daily.

If you were to create a checklist from this definition, it would look like this:

  • Highly-competent
  • Super-connected
  • Deeply, deeply compassionate
  • Systems thinker. I’ll discuss in more detail what this means in the Section on “The World,” but in essence it means someone who sees the world as a meshwork of interconnected systems, and is able to understand how different factors influence the system as a whole.
  • Working to improve the world. If you’re working to destroy the world, you’re on the dark side. You’re not a Jedi regardless of how competent and connected you are.
  • Identified their mission and purpose. The most impactful and successful people in the world have all thought deeply about why they exist, their raison d’être or life-purpose. They’ve identified it and often written it down.
  • Passion unleashed for achieving mission. Once your mission is clear, the key is to unleash your passion, all of your energy and much of your time toward achieving this defined, succinct, clear, motivating goal.
  • Extraordinary focus. Remember, you can do anything, but can’t do everything. These are people that have aligned their abilities behind making a difference for good.
  • Immense, vibrant energy. If you’re monotonous, if your energy is low, you cannot inspire and lead others. At the end of the day, you must become greater than yourself. You must pass on your mission to others who are smart, caring, and competent in order to leverage your time and ability beyond yourself. In physics, energy can neither be destroyed nor created; it can only change form. The job of a Jedi is to identify their meaningful mission and then take their energy and transform it into energy passed on to others.

In Star Wars, there are also the Jedi Knights. Jedi Knights were the protectors of the universe and of the good. Continuing with my playful metaphor, I define Jedi Knights as a group of Jedis who are consciously choosing to be the guardians of peace and justice and who utilize the forces of energy and influence for good while changing the future for the better through their efforts.

As you continue to explore the world, build your networks, clarify your goals, find amazing Jedi mentors, you will realize there are many groups of Jedi Knights out there working to make the world a better place. Someday, you may be able to join them.

If you aspire to do so, don’t accept just any mentor. Don’t settle for a person you just happened to run into, unless he or she is truly great. Find a true Jedi. Find someone from whom you can learn amazing things.