Work hard. Face your fears. Step outside your comfort zone. There’s no shortage of mantras or tactics on how to be successful, but day in and day out, people find comfort in surrounding themselves with familiar people who are already there, rather than striving to grow and nourish relationships with awesome mentors. Think about it for a second, as Jim Rohn said,
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Bums hangout with other bums. If you happen to be a billionaire named Warren Buffet, your circle is filled with other billionaires. So when your homie Mark Cuban makes a quick $100 million on a company that he just flipped, it’s normal. His thought process may be foreign to us, but it is shared knowledge between Mark and Warren.
This goes to show that your perception of reality is merely a result of who you surround yourself with. The key to constant growth is to strive to always be at the bottom of the five. Or, in other words, if you’re the smartest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room.[bctt tweet="The key to growth? Strive to surround yourself w/ more successful people, says @samhysell"]
With that said, one of the fastest ways to make strides in living a fulfilled and prosperous life is to invest your time in building relationships with mentors who’ll help you rise to the top. Over time, as you continue to improve the caliber of mentors in your life, you’ll soon become the one who’s sought after. Here are six hacks I’ve used to accelerate my growth and prosperity:
Take a second to isolate where you’re looking to grow.
Focus is one of the most important things in life. If you want to develop new skills, get a new job, or become a better person, it’s important to isolate where you’re looking to grow. Think about where you want to be three to five years out, and reverse-engineer what skills you’ll need to get there. Then, and only then, seek out mentors who are very proficient in those areas.[bctt tweet="Think about where you want to be + reverse-engineer what you need to get there @samhysell"]
It’s better to talk to specialists than generalists. If you’re looking to develop your product management skills, then talk to a product manager, not a CEO.
Think about where you want to grow, and find people a couple notches ahead of you who are proficient in those areas. You can end up wasting lots of your time and other people’s when you’re firing blanks at the very top of the ladder with a super-high profile.
If you want to hack being an awesome swimmer, maybe instead of trying to get ahold of Michael Phelps, find and talk to someone who won the silver medal 2 or 3 Olympics ago, they’re still world class and a lot less “in-demand” or even just a local high school swim coach. What’s most important is they have the skills and experience in what it is that you want to do. Status means nothing.
Sure if you’re looking to become better at investing and milking companies for cash, then Mark Cuban would have lots of valuable feedback, but in seeking a job at a startup, you’re going to get much better and actionable advice from someone who just landed a job at an awesome company.[bctt tweet="Find people who are proficient in the areas you hope to develop @samhysell"]
Understand your landscape and the players involved.
Before you can begin reaching out to people you look up to, you need to know who they are. Say you’re in love with EdTech (technology aimed at revolutionizing education), then you better damn well know who’s crushing it in EdTech.
We live in the age of blogs and twitter, so it’s super easy and just as important to curate who you follow online as it is offline. If you follow awesome people in EdTech on their blogs and twitter, you’ll see them talk about and interact with other cool companies and people in the space and overtime you’ll begin to develop your own understanding of the landscape.
Make your hit list and do your homework:
One of the best exercises was an assignment in a class I had with an awesome VC and someone who definitely played a large role as a mentor in my life. The assignment was to come up with an idea for a conference you’d be interested in attending, and then mapping out who would speak, who would keynote and what they would talk about.
This exercise helps you develop a very clear understanding of who’s who and who knows what. You have to figure out which people you’d be interested in seeing speak (and thus meeting), you’d have to develop an understanding of their expertise so you can come up with an awesome topic for what they can talk about. Knowing who you look up to and why (at a granular level) are foundational to finding the right mentors.[bctt tweet="Knowing who you look up to + why is key to finding a mentor @samhysell"]
Create serendipity and REACH OUT!
This is the part where most people fall short. They have people they look up to, and reasons why, but they stop there.
So how do you reach out, and get them in the mindset of “wow, this person is awesome, where did he come from?!”
The first thing to consider is that egos love to be stroked, even when people are not egotistical. Thought leaders spend lots of time sharing ideas and building brands of expertise, but the feedback loop as to whether or not people take action on their advice and how it worked out is something they love, and don’t get often.
One of the best compliments any thought leader could get is that you took action on a specific piece of their advice, or that they inspired you in a specific way. When you reach out, the thing that inspired you and how you took action should be articulated in the opening sentences of your email (see how to find anyone’s email here). Be grateful. Be sincere. Show that you didn’t just hear what they had to say, but that you acted on it. Or, that your way of thinking changed because of them. Don’t just talk about it, be about it! The second part of your email should be an ask in a way that adds value.[bctt tweet="When you reach out to industry leaders, show they've inspired you into action @samhysell"]
Ask a thoughtful and specific question.
Now that you've made their day by showing they've made an impact on someone else's life, it’s now time to capitalize on those great emotions. One of the easiest ways to add value is, believe it or not, by asking a highly-specific question. The question you ask should show that you’re already taking steps towards a goal that you have, and that you believe their unique expertise can help.
This adds value because humans love to be heard and give advice. You’ve already shown that you listen to what they have to say, and that there’s now a unique situation where you think one minute of their time responding to the email can make an even bigger impact.
Nourish the relationship by taking the advice and showing the results.
Now that they’ve responded (which they won’t always do, but you’re going to miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, in the words of Wayne Gretzky), say thank you and that you’re going to try it out.
Now, actually do what they said. Take their advice. Don’t expect them to reach back out to you in a couple weeks-- they’re likely focused on other things, but you still have the opportunity to make their day yet again by showing them once again how their wisdom and advice actualized itself in someone else’s life.
This is the core interaction of a successful mentor/ mentee relationship. Your specific context and challenge are presented, their specific insights are given, you take their advice, show them how it made an impact, and then start the loop all over again in two to four weeks. Don’t overthink it by trying to set a recurring appointment with them once a month or present anything more formal than that-- you risk coming off as a value-leech.
Beyond that, be on the lookout for other ways to add value. Whether by sending them an article they’d like, introducing them to another mentor or influencer who you know or whatever else comes to mind that could help them achieve what they’re after.[bctt tweet="Nourish mentor relationships by showing the results, says @samhysell"]
You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with most. Constantly strive to be at the bottom of that five by reaching out to the people you look up to… it’s selfish not to. If there’s someone you look up to, let them know how they’ve made an impact so they know their work is paying off.
The biggest mistakes I’ve seen here is people getting scared to reach out. If you detach yourself from the outcome, realize that you are creating value for them through an email that’ll touch their heart, and consistently reach out and nourish relationships with new and existing mentors, your goals will come to fruition faster than you can imagine.
Photo credit: SI Boston alumna Mara Renz Smith