6 questions to help you access the magic of mentoring

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Hi, my name is Pamina and I’m a recovering “I-can-do-it” addict.

I’d been tackling the tough stuff of life single handed for so long, it didn’t occur to me that help was available, and all I had to do was ask. Yes, I know that this “not asking for directions” addiction is (apparently) more common in men, and if that’s true, I can empathize. Those three magic little sentences mentioned in my last post:

I don’t know!

How do you do this?

Will you help me?

Were like a foreign language to me – and during my recovery from this affliction, I’ve realized that’s what often made life so tough!

Looking back, there were mentors everywhere – I just didn’t know how to ask.

It didn’t occur to me that I could ask. So, perhaps this is more prevalent among men – but clearly it’s not exclusive to them. Research shows that in our western culture where a high value is placed on self-sufficiency people tend to find asking for help a lot more difficult. Interestingly, I write for the Huffington Post’s Africa’s Female Entrepreneurs series, and it’s apparent that this is also prevalent in developing countries. When you don’t have ready access to resources, skills training or mentors, you get used to the DIY way.

The thing is, asking for help takes us out of the driver’s seat and temporarily puts us in a passive position.

This loss of control can feel uncomfortable, but ultimately empowers us to “get it right” – often much faster and with much less stress and strain. When we don’t ask for help it can cause:

• Stress and exhaustion
• Resentment and defensiveness
• Mistakes and damaged credibility
• Being taken for granted
• Learned helplessness in partners, teams and families
• Erosion of confidence through failure
• Wasted time, energy and resources

There are many reasons people fear asking for assistance – fear of appearing weak, needy or incompetent, are among the most common. Sometimes, like me you become conditioned and don’t even think about it. This addiction is often exacerbated in a highly competitive business environment. There’s always the chance that the skills, or expertise you lack will be used against you. Asking the wrong person in an environment like this can mean you risk having your project hijacked, for instance.

Good mentors also need to walk their talk.

Would you seek financial planning advice from a homeless person?

Probably not. And I wouldn’t ask an anorexic person for dietary advice either!

Procrastination can often be a byproduct of an I-can-do-it addiction. You don’t know where to begin, so you put it on the back burner – a sure way for a manageable problem to become a crisis (sometimes a life-threatening one). I’ve worked with many people who have allowed this to happen in their careers, finances, relationships, business decisions, and health.

So research suggests that there is a gender bias – that generally men may have a harder time asking for help than women.

But as we’ve discovered, there are other influences at work too. The culture you’re raised in plays an important part – and so does your personal history. In other words it’s what we’re conditioned to; what we believe is acceptable, or not. Some people have been conditioned from an early age not to ask for help when they need it. Sometimes they’ve experienced a backlash, so they wonder what’s the catch; what’s it going to cost me?


Because, asking for help inevitably shifts the balance of power in the relationship. It requires trust.

Get fear or pride to step aside for a minute and ask:

1. What am I struggling with that could benefit from mentoring?

2. Why would mentoring be helpful in this situation?

3. What exactly will be the benefit of mentoring?

4. Who would be the right mentor?

5. How will I set up a mentoring program?

6. When is a good time to do this?

Whether your I-can-do-it addiction is linked to gender bias, cultural bias or personal history – it’s only conditioning. And when our conditioning becomes a liability instead of an asset, it’s time to change it. It’s time to access the magic of mentoring.

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