No, I haven’t boiled any bunny rabbits lately. My particular brand of stalking has nothing to do with my romantic life, although it is all about passion — my passion for my career, and for the industry that I work in.
You see, I don’t stalk ex-boyfriends or old high school friends — at least not that often, and never without a few glasses of wine in me first. I do, however, regularly stalk strangers. And by strangers, I specifically mean people I consider to be mentors. Now, I’ve never met most of these mentors, and the ones I have actually met have generally been via brief handshakes against the background of a loud, crowded tech conference, which isn’t exactly prime real estate for establishing a deep, involved relationship.
Even though I’m not personally in touch with most of these mentors, I do maintain a strong personal relationship with them. Their successes are inspiration for my future successes. Their failures are lessons I learn for myself. And, their blogs, tweets and posts about these topics are the conversation that keeps me learning and growing from their example — however one-sided that conversation may be.
Celebrities — not diamonds — in the rough
For example, I’ve considered Danielle Morill a mentor ever since I met her at the Twiistup tech conference a few years ago. Danielle made her name as one of the driving forces behind the hugely successful company Twilio. When we met, she and I had a frank discussion about being young women in the tech industry, maintaining relationships and busy schedules and general tech trends and topics. I’m sure the talk meant a lot more to me than it did her, and I’m pretty sure she barely remembers it, if at all. Since then, although we haven’t talked personally, I’ve followed her on Twitter and via her blog, where she recently posted about the decision to start her own company, Referly.Her post – a timeline of the process to take her idea from conception to full-blown company creation — is a blueprint for me, not just in terms of the specific steps she took, but in terms of the way she was thinking and feeling while taking them. It’s not just about following in her footsteps, it’s about understanding how and why she decided which steps to take in the first place.
I feel the same way about my other mentors. That list — and yes, there is an actual list I maintain on Twitter as well as a list of blog and Facebook bookmarks in my browser — includes Sheryl Sandberg,Marissa Mayer, Joel Spolsky, Leah Culver, Molly Holzschlag, Rand Fishkin , Gina Bianchini andBethenny Frankel. Yes, Bethenny Frankel. I may not necessarily want to emulate all of my mentors’ careers. But, I do learn an awful lot from following their day-to-day thoughts and actions via Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere. In fact, that’s where most of the value of my mentorships comes from.
Case in point: I’ve been following Gina Bianchini’s career for years, and have consistently been blown away by her ability to keep her eyes — and her hands — on multiple tech industry trends, before the rest of the world even knows they’re trending. Sure, I could simply watch her moves as they’re breathlessly reported by the industry press. But frankly, that’s not what I find interesting about her. What I find most fascinating is her Twitterstream, where she talks about everything from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Wall Street Journal‘s paywall. It’s not necessarily always about the big moves she’s making, it’s about the mosaic of little thoughts that end up informing those big moves.That’s why we love social media in general — it’s a voyeuristic look inside someone’s day to day life, a sort of Rear Window in 140 characters or less. And, it’s why social media stalking makes for such great mentorship. Not only do I get to follow what people I admire are doing. I get to follow what they’re thinking while they do it. Which, by the way, makes me feel much better about my own doubts and decisions, and helps inspire me in countless other ways as well.
Democratization and infinite possibilities
Sure, a traditional mentor might take me to lunch, check in on me once in a while, or help me out with a job recommendation. But, my social media mentors are available 24/7, providing all of their wisdom and support without even knowing it, simply by living — and sharing — their own lives. And, in fact, I’d argue that they share an awful lot more with me without ever knowing it than they would in a more traditional, formal and professional mentorship relationship.Now, some people might not call my particular brand of ‘aspirational social media stalking’ mentorship. They may say I don’t have mentors, I merely have role models. Or people to look up to. But, the dictionary defines a ‘mentor’ as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” In contrast, a ‘role model’ is simply “a person regarded by others, especially younger people, as a good example to follow.”
The difference is clear. A mentor is someone who counsels and teaches, not necessarily by being a paragon of perfection as a person or professional, but simply by being someone with wisdom worth listening to. Often, the best of that wisdom comes from the moments when a mentor is being the opposite of a good example — the times they take risks that don’t work out, make decisions they regret later, or accidentally admit to something they probably shouldn’t have. That’s when I learn the most from my mentors. They’re not role models, and they’re certainly not perfect. But they are teachers. Even when they don’t know it.