Oprah had her fourth-grade teacher. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had his college president. Even Gandhi had one. A mentor: A person a little bit further on the path of life than you are, with wisdom and advice to spare.
A mentor is someone you respect and admire who can see in you the potential you hope you have. A mentor is someone who believes in you and helps you make your dreams come true.
No matter where you are in your career -- a recent college grad, a stay-at-home parent, a long-time professional -- mentors can help. And for military spouses, they are completely invaluable.
"I stumbled into my relationship with my mentor," explains Army wife LaRae. "I never thought of myself as needing one or wanting one. She was my boss's colleague at my first job, and I cultivated a relationship with her because she was a military spouse also. I felt like I was part of her club just because of the military thing. She has been a guiding light in my life."
For LaRae, her mentor's influence has been about more than finding a place of advice, wisdom or inspiration. Her mentor has been her champion, believing in her even when she had a hard time believing in herself.
"Especially after being a stay-at-home Mom," LaRae says. "She has helped me find the courage to find my own dreams."
That is what mentors do. Here are five reasons you should have one, too.
1. Mentors Have Been There, Done That.
A mentor who has had a career while being a military spouse has already faced everything you have to face and survived. That's proof you can do it, too.
Mentors are also good about sharing their wisdom. From what to wear to a Hail and Farewell to how to explain to your boss you have to PCS, they have probably wondered the same thing during their own career. They might have posed the same questions to their own mentor.
"Getting advice from someone who has done it just feels more real to me," LaRae says. "Like I can trust it. When she tells me she knows how hard it is to get a job as a military spouse, I know she actually knows."
2. Mentors Are Connected.
We all know that networking is the key to successful (and repeated) employment, and no one can expand your network like you can. Except your mentor. He or she has a long-established network of military spouses around the world, all who would be happy to give their friend's young friend a helping hand or words of advice as necessary.
Well-connected mentors can help you navigate moves, life changes and career reincarnations, all familiar obstacles on the road to military spouse employment. "With friends everywhere, they can always find someone to put you in touch with who has done what you're trying to do," LaRae says. "And talking to another military spouse who knows your industry is very helpful."
Someone who will leverage their network on your behalf is a critical connection for military spouses seeking employment. For younger spouses without established networks especially, mentors can be the key to expanding your network and connecting you with people who can actually help you get work.
3. Mentors Will Inspire You.
"I had a mentor in college who changed my life," says Madeline, a young Marine Corps wife. "I still email her almost every week."
Madeline recently moved to her husband's duty station, and she has been struggling to find work there. "I emailed her because I was depressed about it, and I didn't know where to turn. Having her as a support is very helpful, and her advice is always good. She said, 'If you can't find the position you want, make it.' I'm now starting to think about opening my own business. All because of her!"
Mentors see something in you that you might not see yourself. They value that potential, and they want you to reach it. Whether it is an uplifting word when you are on the zillionth-month of a job search or a helping hand when you are rewriting your resume, mentors can help you find the spark to believe in yourself and turn your little dream into something big.
"I think it's mostly because she likes me and she's a very helpful person," Madeline says, "but she has become my head cheerleader."
4. Mentors Will Advise You Honestly.
Love you though she might, your mentor is someone who does not have a dog in your fight, no matter what battle you are facing. She can offer unbiased advice you will not find elsewhere.
"You need to think of it as someone who can see what you don't see, and that means your faults too. But they like you, so you can hear it from them," LaRae says. Unlike your mother or a beloved friend, a mentor can celebrate your strengths without letting them blot out your weaknesses.
"Having someone who knows what you are capable of and give you advice is more helpful than you know until you have it," LaRae explains. That is especially true when that person has the experience to back up their advice.
5. Mentors Know How to Balance It With Military Life.
Mentors are good for everyone, as successful businessmen and women have known for years. But for military spouses in particular, mentors can help you grow personally, professionally and communally.
"Being new, you have no idea what you're doing," Madeline says. "You don't know you have to pull over for colors. You don't understand about hats inside. Finding someone who will take you under wing and explain all of those things to you? That's something we should all have."
Madeline is right. From your first moment as a military spouse, was there a more seasoned spouse you could turn to for help with protocol, expectations and military etiquette?
Wouldn't it be amazing if that person were also able to help you troubleshoot your employment problems, analyze your networking skills, and be honest with you about your resume and cover letter?
"Finding someone who tells you, 'This sucks' is really great, even if that's counterintuitive," Madeline says. "You need someone to tell it to you like it is, and your friends can't. They won't. They are friends. A mentor is different because she can tell you what you're doing wrong, and how to fix it, while also dealing with military life."
So call that old college adviser. Email that boss you admired so much. Find the older friend online who just managed the SAHM back-to-work transition. Take the people you admire off their pedestals and ask them to get to work -- with you. Finding a mentor can be a positive experience not just for you, but also for your mentor.
"You know, they get something out of it too," LaRae says. "It's good for everyone."
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