We are all familiar with the idea of mentorship. Maybe you saw it in a movie once or maybe it was modeled to you by a parent or significant other. I’m sure many of us would say that we wouldn’t have gotten where we are now if it weren’t for a particular mentor. This has been true for my life, however, it was not the case for my experience as a designer. Instead of being mentored, I became the mentor.
I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin almost two years ago, not with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or the visual arts. Rather, I graduated with a degree in art education, meaning I was en route to be certified to teach the visual arts in grades K-12. So naturally when I graduated, I knew it was going to be hard to find a job, let alone a mentor to help me get to the place I needed to be in design. I was able to land two separate jobs as a designer, but both places failed to see that mentorship was an important step to not only building a better team but also to building better products.
In the fall of 2014, I was approached by a high school student from Frisco ISD. She had found my work online and wanted to interview me for a school project. We met up at a coffee shop, and she asked me a list of questions about how I got into the profession and what makes it so appealing to me. A few weeks later, she told me she had selected me to be her mentor for an independent study and mentorship program at her school.
I was extremely honored, but then I started to worry about my lack of knowledge. I always imagined a mentor being this Yoda figure who is wise and has more than 20 years of experience. I couldn’t shake the fact that even though I was a grown adult who had a full-time job and was about to get married, I still felt like a kid. But I pressed on and learned a few things about mentoring.
Here are some tips I’ve learned over the past six months:
Your Mistakes Are Often More Valuable Than Your Successes
While sharing your success stories can be motivating for your student, being open about your failures and mistakes can often be more helpful. This was initially why my student chose me out of all the other designers she interviewed. Vulnerability shows your student how success is often achieved through trial and error. Share those stories so that everyone can learn from them.
You Don’t Have to Know Everything
Did you read this article? Did you hear that talk? Did you see what they made? There is just too much noise in any given industry for you to know it all and maintain a life outside of your work. Instead, speak from your experience. If you have no idea what fonts pair well for readability, be honest and explore with your student. One of the things that has helped my student during our time together is being able to watch my process from idea to prototype. Share what you know and what you don’t know.
It’s never easy to introduce a new commitment into your life. Face it, we are all busy and have enough issues to worry about throughout the day. And being a mentor is not something where you can simply show up. Your student will receive as much as you give. Try your best to be as available as you can to offer any advice or share an article to keep your student motivated. Take the time to prepare a lesson on wire framing or pick a side project to challenge their creativity. Share your time.
I haven’t been at Credera for very long, but I have seen how important mentorship is to our company. Every new employee is assigned a mentor to immediately help you get acclimated. Most importantly, you can share your strengths and weaknesses with your mentor because they want to help you reach your full potential. Being at Credera has empowered me to become a better mentor with my student and potentially with others in this company.