Forget Mentors. Find a Mirror
In his new book Die Empty, Todd Henry explains how even bright and skilled people can become stagnant in their career and introduces approaches to help them create work they can be proud of. In this edited excerpt, Henry outlines strategies for engaging people you trust to help you stay on track with your goals. Die Empty will be released today.
Just as a mirror allows you to see your true appearance, other people in your life can help you see beyond your assumptions and blind spots. No matter how confident you are in your abilities, there will come a time when you are uncertain of the next step. In these situations, it's important to have someone who can help you stay aligned and remind you of what's truly important.
Are there people in your life who have full permission to speak truth to you about what they see? These kinds of relationships are not easy to cultivate, because you must find people you trust and respect, and who you know will speak out of a genuine concern for your best interests rather than as a way to influence you toward their own. However, if you can identify a few people to play this role for you, it can provide you with a tremendous amount of confidence because you know that others are also watching out for you.
Here's how to implement this practice.
Find your mirrors. Look for people you regularly encounter in the course of your day, and whom you both trust and respect. Ideally, they are people on your team or in your workgroup, though as long as you see them often, they can fill the role. Also, I'd encourage you to play the same role for them. By doing this, you keep one another accountable for living up to your personal standards of excellence.
Tell them what to watch for. You can ask the mirrors in your life to evaluate how well you are living out your ethic. For example, if you want to bring a lot of energy to the workplace, they can help you identify times when you are dragging things down. They can also encourage you in the areas where you are doing well at living up to your standards. I'd encourage you to share your goals and ambitions with them, and ask them to hold you accountable for taking meaningful action each week. When you know that someone will be probing to see if you've taken action, long-arc projects stop collecting dust.
Set up a regular time to connect. Establish a regular time to get together with your mirror to chat about how work is going, discuss what you're seeing, and challenge and encourage each other in your work. This will provide a necessary sense of urgency to watch for those key issues you're accountable for, and will also help you discuss ways of getting better at your work. I'd recommend getting together with your mirror once per week. Make sure that you do your homework ahead of time so that you know what to ask. Don't waste the other person's time by not preparing for your meeting.
Be ruthlessly honest. Regardless of what you ask your mirrors to keep watch over, make certain that they feel complete freedom to speak to you about anything. You want them to have the ability to highlight potential issues before they become damaging, especially if they are things that you may be overlooking. You must be willing to speak the truth as you see it, and to receive it from the other person even when it's uncomfortable to hear. Nobody wins when you shape the truth to make it more palatable. Direct and aggressive honesty is the salve that consistently heals avoidance and self-delusion.
Adjust regularly. The goal is to have someone keep you aligned with what's important to you and what you think you need to be focusing on, but this emphasis will definitely change from season to season. Make sure that you are regularly checking in with your mirrors to let them know what you'd like them to be watching for. Your mirrors serve as "outposts" who can show you where you may be falling short of your intentions.
Remember that something that seems obvious to you might be profound to others. Having a mirror in your life can help you hone your intuition and keep your focus, time and energy in the right place.
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