Mentoring relationships and skill based apprenticeships in the arts are not a thing of the past. If you are an emerging artist or perhaps re-emerging (returning to the art you have set aside for a while), consider finding yourself a mentor to help you through your career transitions.
While finding the right mentor can take some time (and is a whole different blog topic to cover), once you have found your creative counterpart, here are some tips to get the most out of working with your mentor.
Keep in mind, your mentor may take the lead on your working relationship especially if they have mentored other creatives. This list, however, can help prepare you to be a diligent protegee and help get you on the right track to learn and absorb as much from your mentor as you can.
Show Up Prepared: Have a plan and a focus each time you meet. The mentor relationship is about your growth and career, so be prepared to cover your progression, what you have worked on since you last met, and what you need from your mentor (feedback, resources, tips, encouragement, etc).
Never show up to meet and work with your mentor unprepared. You are wasting your mentor’s time and also your own! Your mentor’s job is to work with you and your goals in mind, not to talk at you. If you find yourself unprepared, contact your mentor and be honest. Let them know you are unprepared and that you value their time. See if re-scheduling your mentoring session is an option.
Some mentors may request you to send an agenda beforehand. This is a helpful tool for both you and your mentor. First, it causes you to be prepared to meet, and second it gives your mentor an opportunity to pull resources and to prepare themselves for your meeting.
Ask Questions: Spend some time thinking about what you want to know and develop critical thinking questions to ask your mentor. While, “where do you buy your clay?” may be technically helpful for bulk buying your stash, there are better, more critical questions you could ask that would help guide your career.
Do Your Homework: If you and your mentor discussed a “homework” assignment, its expected that you make progress on that project. And if you have a change of direction, be able to speak to the change, the reasons behind that decision, and what you learned.
Take Notes: You won’t be able to absorb and remember every insightful thing your mentor tells you. Don’t be shy about grabbing a notebook and pen, taking copious notes, pausing the conversation to jot something down, and asking your mentor to repeat what they just said. This relationship is to your benefit and you don’t want to miss something.
Push Yourself: You are in charge of your career and your growth, while your mentor can mirror back your progress and help get you where you want to go, the success of your mentoring relationship actually relies on you. Unless you push yourself to grow, you won’t bloom.
Be Open: Be open about every aspect of your mentoring. Share what you are looking for within your relationship in terms length of time and what your creative needs are. Be open about what career directions you want to take and what your goals are. Be open to the suggestions and feedback of your mentor. And try the suggestions, projects and resources your mentor makes, even if its something you normally wouldn’t try.
Supplement Support: Your mentor will do everything in their power to assist and help you, but don’t be afraid to find additional help. While your mentor will be skilled in their media and certain business areas, every artist has strengths and weaknesses. Seek out areas where you and your mentor don’t have strengths so you can be sure to strengthen these career areas. Informational interviews and coffee dates with other industry people, attending workshops, consultations, classes and conferences can be supplemental material to support your career.
Want to find some supplemental support but feeling shy? Check out this post!