What career advice would you give your younger self?

Perhaps along your career path you might have been blessed to find an experienced colleague, manager, or friendly soul who was willing to serve as a mentor. This Someone Special may have had a mighty impact on you, providing great advice or connecting you with someone or something just at the right time. You may not have recognized them as a mentor at the time, but your relationship with them had a real impact on you.

I was employed at a state agency early in my career as I parented a growing family. The work was interesting enough, and in that position, I became familiar with agencies and organizations around the state and the region. But along the way, I met a Special Someone, a program director in a small non-profit, who was considerably more experienced than I was. Over time as we had more professional contact, and began a real friendship, she began encouraging me to think about moving into consulting. She pointed out how I could leverage my talents and my networks in a way that provided maximum flexibility with my schedule. We had many discussions about how I might make the shift. When I took the leap, she provided me with some early consulting “wins” by introducing me to a few potential clients. When I stumbled along the way, she helped me process the learning experience and recover quickly. Her listening and reflective questions, as well as professional insights went a long way.

Mentoring efforts can be formal or informal, and include individual, group, and hybrid initiatives (e.g. US Office of Personnel Management, Harvard Business Review). But all have one thing in common – cultivating and investing in a relationship. This should be familiar territory for Development leaders.

Quite frankly, leaving the security of a state job, and moving into building my own business was terrifying and risky. At the same time, it was exhilarating. In the subsequent years, I cultivated a long list of clients, including my former state agency employer. I eventually built a consulting practice around program development and evaluation, grant writing, and non-profit management. That gig lasted nearly 15 years…until I had three kids in college. (But that’s another story!).

What good advice or collegial and sustained support have you received along your career journey that may have helped to clarify your direction? Perhaps there was a relationship you had with a more senior colleague which helped you feel less isolated or led you to think differently about your work? Can you identify a Special Someone who became a mentor to you along the way?

Mentoring empowers another professional to grow personally and professionally. Both formal and informal mentoring works magic on both the mentor and the mentee. I have never forgotten the power of my Special Someone’s great advice and encouragement to take a career risk. That guidance literally changed my life and ultimately helped me retool my career trajectory. We never formally identified our relationship as “mentor/mentee.” However, the impact of this collegial support led me to eventually promise myself that once I had experience under my belt I would serve as a mentor to a junior colleague, much as she had been to me. Over the years, I have actively mentored several emerging development professionals, consultants building their practices, and those just beginning their careers. I currently serve with the national mentoring network of the Grant Professionals Association. Paying it forward FEELS GOOD.

Consider choosing to become a mentor – a Someone Special – to an emerging development professional. Bring someone along with you on your professional journey. The impact on them – and you – can be mighty!