Last week, I sat next to a dear friend of mine at a local brewery, discussing professional and personal challenges, future goals and how delicious the butter chicken pizza was. As with many of my conversations, I spent the week reflecting on our time together chatting about the highs and lows of life and our hopes for the future.
Thinking about our conversation, I realized how incredibly grateful I am to have him as such as good friend – but our relationship didn’t start that way.
Nearly seven years ago, I walked into his office with bright eyes and a can-do attitude. It was the first day of my internship, and he was my boss. I used the summer to build his trust, asking questions, admiring his leadership and improving my skill set, thanks to his guidance and critiques.
The following year, we checked in often. He asked about my last year of college, and I asked about the organization’s success and for updates on my previous colleagues. After several years of frequent check-ins, we have landed where we are today: I attended his wedding, and we’ve hung out at downtown concerts. I’ve watched his dog, and he’s included me in his birthday plans.
While maintaining a professional relationship was completely intentional, we ultimately have been lucky enough to inadvertently create a cherished friendship. While that wasn’t the intent (but thankfully the result), our relationship has taught me a few incredibly important things about being a mentee and a mentor when you are also good friends.
First and foremost—and as with all relationships—you get out what you put in. The more time, energy and attention you invest in the relationship, the more it will thrive. We have both taken an active role in our relationship, seeking advice, encouraging one another and working through challenges. Because of these discussions and opportunities, our relationship has evolved with our experiences and life stages—and we are both better for it.
Secondly, we often ask the opinion of the other. We pick each other’s brain and bounce ideas off one another. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always have the right advice or knowledge appropriate for the situation or task – but that’s true for my mentor as well. He’s one of the smartest individuals I know, and because of that, we respect the other enough to know that while the other’s perspective and advice is important and desired, it’s provided to make us think differently, but is not the ‘end-all, be-all’ answer. We consider and evaluate the other’s advice, but are never disrespectful if one of us chooses to go a different route.
A third major foundational piece in our relationship is honesty. Encompassed in the first two items highlighted, I think it’s a major reason our relationship has thrived. When I’m not feeling confident in a certain ability, he is quick to build me up, reminding me of my strengths or ability to learn swiftly. When I’m overthinking a project or a situation, he is the first to bring me back to reality. When I get too big for my britches or am in the wrong (and am too passionate/stubborn/frustrated to see it), he immediately puts me in my place—in just the right way. While in certain situations, it’s difficult to hear criticism, it’s always well-intentioned and helps me grow, making sense in hindsight.
While he’s one of my most trusted mentors, I’m fortunate to have also have a him as a friend. Not all friendships offer important and critical perspectives that you’ve likely not already thought of for career crossroads and personal decisions.
Mentors are important – but if you’re lucky enough to find a mentor and give the investment, respect and honesty to the relationship over time, you might just find someone who is an incredible mentor and an important friend.