“You need to find a mentor,” my parents once told me.

While I figured this was one of those classic things that parents say to teenagers, in the same category as “Just wait until you have to pay for college,” it stuck with me. But what did this mean exactly? When I think about the word ‘mentor’ I still see a boy in the early 19th century hammering boots as an blacksmith’s apprentice. So how does it apply today?

Blacksmith 0000 0000 WarthCollection 004 wagon 1500 How to find a mentor

Brent, left, with his mentor. (ARTIST’S RENDITION)

Well, for one, mentorships have changed a whole lot. If you approach any reasonably successful person and ask them to be your mentor, you will get laughed at, brushed off or ignored. Why? Because people are busy. Despite the promise of technology to give us infinite leisure time while the robots worked for us, we’ve decided that double the work plus angry birds in your pocket is good enough. So there needs to be a new approach.

Some of my biggest mentors are people I’ve never met. People like Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, Noah Kagan and Ramit Sethi. Through their books, blogs, Twitter accounts and emails, I’ve been absorbing plenty of knowledge. But rather then reading somebody’s book, actually getting them to answer your question takes things to a whole different level. Here’s what has worked well for me:

  • When trying to get someone to meet you, be selfless. If you ask to “pick their brain”, you need to pick your own and come up with some better language. Always make sure you are the one buying coffee/lunch as well.
  • Add some insights or value first. These are important people who are probably getting 10 emails a week asking for something. If you send out an article you thought they’d enjoy or a recent statistic you saw, you separate yourself instantly.
  • Email them directly to avoid their auto-responders or assistants. If you can’t find it online, try using this clever trick to find it: http://bit.ly/rapportiveleads
  • FOLLOW UP: I can’t tell you how many people email once, say to themselves “They must hate me” and set themselves on a path of horribly boring decisions for the remainder of their life (may have been too harsh there). These people are busy, just reach out and say “I know you are busy, just send me a quick “no” if you don’t have time to connect”
  • Let a mentor know how you’ve applied their advice: The most gratifying part of being a mentor is seeing your advice help someone out. If you get great advice from an important person, send them an email letting them know how it worked. Even if their advice failed you, they will appreciate hearing about it. It’s why they do what they do.

Most of all, remember that your informal mentors are people. Don’t creep them out by sending them pictures of your shrine to them. Be grateful for nuggets of wisdom they throw your way and remember what has helped you out when you start to get emails yourself asking for advice.