1. We need to receive honest feedback.
There are two unproductive types of feedback that we regularly receive in our 20s: negative feedback from those who are there only to discourage us, and insincere feedback, from those who are more concerned with our emotional state than the truth. The role of a mentor is to strike the sweet spot in between — by highlighting our strengths convincingly enough to encourage us, but also pointing out where we have room to grow. We need those constructive nudges to push us forward — and we need a trusted voice to provide them.
2. We need someone to hold ourselves accountable to.
It doesn’t matter how intrinsically motivated we are, there are days where motivation wanes. And on those days we need an extrinsic reason to get up in the morning and do our best work. Having someone who steadily expects the best from us offers us one less reason to slack off — and one more motivator to succeed.
3. We need someone to advocate for us.
Hard work may speak for itself, but only if its voice gets heard. Mentors use the resources they have available to ensure that the hard work we’re doing receives recognition. It’s a who-you-know world and a strong mentor knows that standing behind your work sets an example — an example that others will follow.
4. We need to be reminded to take ourselves seriously.
When we’re working with professional equals, it is easy to poke fun at ourselves — what we do wrong, what we can’t control, and what we sometimes try too hard at. Mentors serve as a necessary reminder that our work deserves to be taken seriously. They would not have arrived in a position of authority had they not taken a few risks along the way and they expect no less from us. On the days when we forget our own worth, mentors remember it. And they hold us to it.
5. We need to feel understood.
There is a specific element of humanity that underlies every mentor-mentee relationship: It is not just about what one can do for the other professionally but about how one can help the other reach his or her full potential. This requires an intricate knowledge of one another and can lead to a deep sense of understanding and encouragement. We are spurred on most strongly by those who connect with our battles — and that natural sense of empathy drives any true mentor relationship.
6. We need to remember our potential.
Let’s face it: we all feel incredibly lost at various points in our 20s. Having someone we identify with, who embodies our values and exhibits them ferociously, helps us keep the faith that we occasionally lose in ourselves. We all need the occasional reminder of what is possible. And if we’re lucky enough, we find a person who embodies that sense of possibility — and somehow, miraculously, sees it inside of us as well.