Christie Garton is the founder of uChic.com and a millennial expert, author and award-winning social entrepreneur.
Jackie Kennedy, Sheryl Sandberg, and Chance the Rapper: Three American cultural icons who’d probably struggle to find common ground for a polite dinner chat. (Although how much would you pay to overhear just one convo between Jackie O and Chance?)
Despite substantive differences between them, here’s the big similarity: They’re models of excellence, be it by way of fashion, technology, or art. And all three credit their success to the guidance of trusted mentors.
As a budding entrepreneur, you know your potential. You believe, to your core, that greatness is within reach, as long as you’re willing to buckle down and work for it. Now it’s time to find a mentor who also sees that spark in you — a person who will fuel you with advice, wisdom, and motivation as you pursue your career goals.
According a “State of the Girl” survey conducted by my non-profit, 1,000 Dreams Fund, 30 percent of Gen Z and millennial women aim to become their own bosses. But self-employment doesn’t happen overnight, and if you haven’t yet launched your own endeavors, the mentor-seeking process starts with the job search itself. Look for companies with a proven track record of supporting women. Do they not only have a female CEO, but also female leaders in second-tier leadership roles? Is there already an instated mentorship program? Are there family-friendly work policies? These answers give you important insight into a company’s culture and its willingness to support you.
A company that cultivates female leadership can introduce you to successful women — or men! — eager to help you grow. (There’s no rule that says your mentor must be female; Sheryl Sandberg’s was economist Larry Sanders.) Allow yourself to be inspired by people who thrive within your desired industry. But don’t make the mistake of merely admiring from afar: once you’ve identified somebody who becomes a personal influence, take that next step and initiate a mentor-mentee relationship.
Sounds intimidating, right? “Asking out” a role model can feel like approaching a seventh-grade crush. It’s almost a romantic proposal: “Hey, I like you. I admire who you are and what you do. Can we grab lunch?”
But if you let that fear keep you from contacting a perfect mentor, you’re making a huge mistake.
Take it from Alexa von Tobel. By age 30, she was a New York Times best-selling author and had raised $25 million to launch her startup, LearnVest, a financial literacy platform for women. She describes her best mentors as “second parents,” telling Business Insider, “What you have to do is find one or two or three people that are going to give it to you straight and push you harder.” A young entrepreneur must be willing to take a mentor’s feedback and say, “Thank you for telling me things that I can do better, because now I can actually do them better.”
Becoming an entrepreneur is high risk, high reward. But by heeding the advice and criticism of leaders who effectively navigated those risks and rewards, you can avoid some of the classic missteps of aspiring business leaders.
Most entrepreneurial errors are agender; men and women are equally capable of success and failure. But some struggles are more specific to females. Seventy-five percent of millennial women lack confidence in their interviewing skills, State of the Girl found. This self-doubt can be a hindrance as women meet with investors and potential business partners. A study by Merrill Lynch seems to confirm this, finding that more than half of women — 55 percent — agreed with the statement, “I know less than the average investor about financial markets and investing in general.” Among men? Just 27 percent.
Learning firsthand from a mentor will boost your confidence as you stake your ground in a very crowded, competitive arena. There’s no room for people who lack faith in themselves. A mentor’s encouragement, combined with the expertise he or she has shared with you, can provide that much-needed reassurance that yes, you do deserve to be here. You do deserve the respect and attention of investors and partners.
There’s never been a better time for emerging female business leaders, and there’s so much each can learn from the next. Lilly Pulitzer paved the way for Kate Spade, who in turn paved the way for Tory Burch. And while Tory may not be free for coffee, there are countless other entrepreneurs brimming with knowledge you’ll need as you venture toward your goals. (Need advice on how to hit up a very busy person you admire? The Wall Street Journal’s got you covered.)
Jackie’s style was inspired and perfected by Diana Vreeland. Sheryl learned her business prowess from Larry. Chance is the protégé of none other than Kanye West. You already know you’ve got potential for greatness — now who’s going to help get you there?
Christie is a millennial expert, author and award-winning social entrepreneur who has long supported the professional dreams of young women. In addition to creating the 1,000 Dreams Fund, which helps young women obtain scholarship funding, Christie also founded UChic.com, the first-ever online magazine for college-bound and college-aged women. The popular site became the best-selling college guidebook for girls: UChic: College Girls’ Real Advance for Your First Year (& Beyond!) (Sourcebooks 2015).