Why I'd rather have a friend than a mentor
Anyone that has heard me speak (or soapbox) about mentoring knows that I am not a fan of the label. I have spoken to too many people who say “I have never had a mentor” simply because they do not call anyone by that title.  But I have no doubt they have benefitted from mentoring.

I refuse to get hung up on a word.  I focus on finding and developing relationships with people I trust, that I can call on in good times and bad, who can count on me for the same.  Such individuals may very well mentor me, and often do, but they are so much more than that.

And that is why I would rather develop trusted relationships – friendships – than focus on being or obtaining a mentor.

The Definition

So much has been written about mentoring and its importance.  Before even hinting that mentors are not important (because they are), I’ll first share the definitions of these two words:

  • Mentor: an experienced and trusted advisor
  • Friend: a person with whom you share a bond of mutual affection or esteem

Mentor, by definition, assumes a one-way sharing.  Someone is advising another.  Yet, some of us have experienced mentoring relationships that are a mutual sharing of ideas, advice, support and more.  It seems as though the word is insufficient.

Look at the definition of friend.  It is about having a bond.  It does not have to be of affection, which is frequently assumed.  The important part of the definition is on sharing.  On the collective, rather than one or the other benefitting.


What a day

A few weeks ago, I was contacted about a few new writing opportunities.  I was over the moon and was dying to talk to a friend who shares my passion for writing.

Michael and I worked with each other years ago.  We started interacting again regularly a few years ago when I began blogging.  He has been writing longer than I have, so I reached out with a few questions.  We already had history and a lot in common, but this shared passion really shifted our relationship.

Over the past 18 months, we have gone back and forth helping one another as we have run into challenges.  He has asked me to help him vet ideas for his business.  I have asked for help on speaking engagements and writing opportunities.  He’s the one I call about my writing – the good, the bad and the ugly.


To Share or Not To Share

Michael has been focused on his company the last few weeks.  I have been doing what I can to help him out, but I also know his head has been more in his business challenges than anything that might be going on with me.

I could have kept my news to myself.  He might not need the distraction, no matter how exciting I thought the news was.

That is not what friendship is about.  He listened while I talked to him about the new writing opportunities that I was over the moon about.  He was thrilled to hear that I was expanding my reach.

When we were done talking, he validated my decision to reach out.  “Your excitement lifts me up. Thank you so much for the call. You are in a great place. Soak it up and ride the wave as long as you can. Keep me informed because it keeps my energy up to hear you this excited.”


Develop Those Friendships

Michael and I have known each other for 13 years.  For most of that, we would go long stretches without connecting and then catch up like it had only been a short while.

It took a shared passion and on-going interaction to get where we are now.  Where either one of us can send the other a note and ask “do you have a few minutes for a call?”  It does not matter if it is good news or bad, we are there for the other one to lend a hand or raise a toast.

That is why developing friendships, with people who can also give you advice, lend an ear or help you when you are stuck, is so valuable. It is is not about getting or being a mentor.  It is about how we can help each other.

With a friendship, you can celebrate each other’s highs and help each other out of the lows. This time, my high helped Michael.  Next time, it will be his news pulling me out a funk.


I do have people in my life who offer advice and lend an ear, but who are not friends.  Yet.  But by having a commitment to advancing the relationship and giving as much or more than I receive, I believe they will get there.


Do you have friends who are also mentors or guides in your career?  What do you think the most valuable characteristics of mentors are?  Please share your feedback in the comments and keep the conversation going.