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Developing and Maintaining Connections For Self-Made Success Here are a few of the things that helped me get the support and mentorship of significant business people.

By Jamilla D. Ali

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The idea of an established-sought after professional investing in my long-term career potential seemed, well, pretty far-fetched. Why? Mainly because I'm self-made, with zero elite backing and no prominent family ties- and sometimes connections are everything when you're trying to get ahead. In comparison to someone who (for example) attended Yale, had sojourns abroad, and maintained a 4.0 GPA, my background –on paper, at least- doesn't compare to people with high caliber credentials and powerful social connections.

So, how does someone such as myself, who attended a small college in Brooklyn, worked as a nanny, shouldering a mound of student loan debt, become a time investment for some of the most valuable players in this competitive fast-paced corporate world? Well, for me it's been a mix of perseverance, dedication, personality, honesty… and a sprinkle of pure luck.

Here are a few of the things that helped me get the support and mentorship of significant business people:

1. Understand what you need and want

Despite obstacles, I learned early on about the importance of gaining access to accomplished professionals in a variety of fields who could potentially invest their limited time and effort in me. Reaching out is relatively easy once you understand how to navigate your efforts accordingly. However, my goal went far beyond the first initial outreach effort and response. I strongly pursued ongoing relationships involving positive influences who believe in my talent, potential to succeed, and my career goals.

2. Follow your potential investors' cues

Once you have been noticed and the relationship dialogue begins, follow your potential mentor and their social cues. Remain on message at all times, allowing yourself to be present in their initial trusting realm. For example: if you're following up regarding a previous mail or question, continue to pursue the topic at hand. You can potentially throw someone off with random invites to dinner, or attempting to text or call them when the primary source of contact has been email.

3. If you have a hidden agenda, don't bother

My intentions to obtain potential mentors were -and still are- completely genuine and without any hidden agenda. Although powerful people have strong connections and many opportunities, it doesn't mean that you're entitled to them. Your actions should remain humble and forthcoming. Remember, honesty is key in those you are connecting with and it's likely your potential mentor will quickly catch on to intentions that aren't sincere.

4. Allow your personality to shine

By this, I don't mean sharing your Instagram or pictures of your first holiday with friends or family. My selling point has always been my personality- to sum it up, be yourself! Most importantly, reveal parts of your personality others consider of value in what you're trying to accomplish and set your mind on.

5. Listen closely and act on critiques

It's likely your potential mentor will critique and give honest feedback on your current and future goals. For example, as a writer my mentor coaches me frequently on technique, stylization, and grammar. Because her time is precious and limited, it's my responsibility to fully understand what she's conveying and act on it relentlessly with the goal state in mind. If you want someone to invest in you, it's essential you are positioning yourself mentally as someone willing to learn and accept concrete and (sometimes extensive) critique.

6. Keep them in the loop

Ongoing communication will be beneficial to you and your mentor as you continue to pursue your goals. Keeping your mentor in the loop of things, on a weekly or monthly basis is beneficial for both sides. If you allow a significant relationship to go stale, it will portray a lack of dedication and appreciation on your part. Keep in mind that momentum, positivity, and a bit of luck is key in achieving all worthwhile goals, while remaining consistent, focused, and engaged with those invested in your bright future.

Jamilla D. Ali is a native New Yorker and graduate of Saint Francis College in Brooklyn, New York. Jamilla previously worked at a boutique branding agency in Dubai, United Arab Emirates where she  was responsible for all new client business development efforts. Prior to Jamilla’s experience in Dubai, she was a writer for various startup blogs catered to the underground hip hop music scene and cultural activities in and around the New York City area. Jamilla continues to pursue multiple disciplines and aspires to write a book documenting her life changing experiences at home and abroad. 

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