How High Schoolers Can Find and Benefit From a Mentor

What do Gwyneth Paltrow, Yves St. Lauren and Bob Dylan have in common? All of them got to the top of their fields with the support of a mentor. Madonna helped make Gwyneth a mogul/movie star, Christian Dior taught YSL how to take couture to the next level and Jerry Wexler helped Bob Dylan learn the ropes in the recording studio.

In my work with high school students, I meet many students who have identified their interests but don't really know how to connect with resources that might encourage their development in this area. They love playing video games but don't have the first clue about the multi-billion dollar video game industry. They spend all their free time making art but plan to study accounting because they don't know any working artists. They love to write but have no idea how to get published.

The right mentor can literally change your life. Research demonstrates that mentors can provide information, friendship, acceptance, coaching, advocacy, inspiration and serve as role models. Whether you're a scientist, a photographer or an entrepreneur, a caring mentor can show you how to turn your dreams into an actual, fulfilling life path.

How can you find a mentor if you don't have "connections?" You'd be surprised at how many passionate professionals would be happy to share their expertise with eager students who reach out to them. Identify your role models and try to make contact. Get creative and be persistent (without being annoying). Instead of email, try an old-fashioned letter. Be sure to demonstrate that you have done your research on their work, that you have passion for their field, and that you want to learn from them in any way that you can.

Once you've found your mentor, here are some tips to make the most of your mentoree experience:

•Remember that the best relationships blossom over time. Don't expect that you'll get all the support you need after one meeting. After all, it takes time to get to know someone, and your mentor must get to know you before she can understand the best way to offer support. Think of this as a lifelong connection that you are just starting to build. Start slowly and invest in nurturing the trust that facilitates a real bond.

•Come up with a regular schedule for meetings. Even with the best of intentions, it's easy to drop the ball on your commitments if you don't make them a priority. Having regular monthly or bi-monthly meetings with your mentor is the best way to ensure that you'll get to know each other over time. Pick a date -- say the first Monday or second Tuesday of every month -- and stick to it. You're more likely to follow through if you have a regular schedule with your mentor and find a way to incorporate her into your life

•Find fun and interesting things to do with your mentor.
Just because you have a regular meeting time doesn't mean that you have to have a regular meeting place. Getting together at the same Starbucks each time can feel stale. It might be more interesting to check out an art exhibit or see a concert together. The whole point is to form a connection with this person and expose you to new ideas. If you do fun and exciting activities together, you will learn more about yourself and about your mentor.

•Don't make it all about you.
Keep in mind that your mentor is volunteering her time to support you so be sure to show your appreciation! Listen when your mentor talks, and ask her questions about things in her life that she cares about even if they have nothing to do with you. Considerate gestures like birthday cards and homemade cookies can be very expressive without costing a lot. A relationship takes two people so be sure that you're giving back instead of just taking.