“If there was one thing you could walk away with from this presentation, it is to get a mentor. If you’re a woman, I encourage you to get a female mentor because she will have a better understanding what you’d have to go through,” he said.
N. Holt stood 6 feet tall, about 160 pounds (I think) and probably in his early 50s or late 40s. He had dashes of grey hair and wore a pair of thinly framed eyeglasses. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and a tie. His voice was low pitched and he had no apparent accent.
We clapped. A lot of people raised their hands to ask questions. I wanted to ask one too so I could impress him.
“Are you single?”
No, I did not ask that. I asked another one which was probably the stupidest question I ever asked. There was that saying “There is no such thing as a stupid question,” and whoever said it needs to hear my question.
After N. Holt, one of the leaders of the Sales Department at Viacom ended his presentation, I skipped back to my Director’s office to tell him how amazing it was. I immediately took Mr. Holt advice and attempted to get a mentor. It was hard. I was 25 years old. I didn’t even think I really needed an official mentor. Don’t we just work hard at our job, be likeable, learn on the job, reflect on what we’ve learned, have a pool of relationships, apply to higher position or higher paid jobs and call it a life?
Later, I learned, through another Viacom hosted career presentation, that it is best to get a mentor who is two levels above you. There were two reasons for this: 1) someone one level above you is too close to what you’re doing; it wouldn’t be as rewarding because they were just at your position 2) someone more than two levels above you would have been too far removed to understand your current obstacles.
So, I emailed D. Lee, the CEO of BET Networks, to ask if she could be my mentor. I “met” her at a Women’s History Month event. She was one of the kickoff panelists for a women’s interest group. And by meet, I meant I sat in the audience and listened to her.
I never heard back from D. Lee. What gives?!
Finding a mentor took a back seat. I didn’t find any woman who were two levels above me, that I clicked with. I didn’t even find any men, two levels above me, that I clicked with. Then, a colleague of mine told me about this professional mentorship program by Promax and praised about how great it was and how wonderful his relationship with his mentor has been. I applied, twice, and was rejected, twice.
Finding a mentor became not just a seat in the back but it was now out of my car, in the woods. A year passed by working at BET, and there was this colleague who was White and had glasses. One day, during lunch time, I was walking down the streets and our paths crossed. He said hi to me. I said hi back.
Then, I never saw him again. I think he may have gotten let go.
Later, I found myself chatting with this other dude who was also White and wore glasses. I would chat with him in the hallways, sometimes I would strike up a conversation with him in the men’s restroom because as a woman, I believed in equality, which meant I could use the men’s restroom as well as the women’s restroom. Sometimes he and I would also take number two together, the number of the subway in New York City.
I would find myself asking him questions such as, “What would you do in work situation W?” “What should I do in work situation G?” Slowly, I found myself walking into his office, sitting down and talking, for a such a long time that one time my boss came by to look for me.
I discovered that he held one-on-one sessions with his direct reports. I told him I want one too. He neither accepted nor declined. I didn’t give up. I just then barged into his office and conversed with him anyway.
Then through time, after getting the green light from my boss, I was able to request time on his calendar. I wasn’t sure why this was the “proper etiquette” but I took the opportunity like a mouse seeing cheese.
At that point, I was 29 years old, I never expected myself to find a mentor because I wasn’t looking anymore and the opportunity just happened to happen. Mr. Dude with glasses also didn’t fit the “criteria” for the mentor I was told I should be looking for: a female, two levels above me. He was a male, who was four levels above me.
My unofficial (because we never went through initiation like how fraternities and sororities do) mentor and I naturally became a match because we were both awkward. We were both funny, me more than him. We both also said inappropriate things that might have gotten us in trouble and we would laugh right afterwards to mitigate the situation.
The picture below was taken during my last few days at BET Networks: me sitting in my unofficial mentor’s office. Look at those big smile on our faces. We were faking it. *I do not drink Coca-Cola. I was using it as a prop.