Want to turn a role model into a mentor? Just be cool

Warming up a relationship

This is how my cat meets new people:

  1. New person walks into the house. Cat gets intrigued, comes to the door. New person finds this cute.
  2. New person sits on couch. Cat approaches slowly, starts smelling their shoes. Maybe rubs her face on their shoes. New person finds this adorable. They feel flattered and loved. They put out their hand to say, “Here, here, kitty.” Cat is overjoyed.
  3. Cat jumps on lap of new person and aggressively rubs her face against their face until they develop a cat allergy. Cat rolls over on their lap so much that they have accumulated enough cat hair on their pants to fill up a vacuum cleaner. And, worst of all, if this guest is spending the night, cat forces herself on their face all night long until they simply grow tired of pushing her aside. They barely get any sleep. In the end, war-torn and weary, our friends leave saying something like, “Well, your cat is cute. But DAMN is she an aggressive cuddler.” They don’t ask to stay here again.

She’s doing it wrong, of course. I’ve tried to tell her. You can’t go from meeting a new person to “best cat-human friends forever” in a matter of 30 seconds. And no matter how much someone loves cats and cuddles, it’s likely still not enough for them to be willing to forfeit a good night of sleep just so you can sleep on their face.

This is the same problem I see among humans who are looking for mentors. Let’s be real: Nobody goes from one coffee date to full-on mentorship overnight.

Even if you think you had the best, most amazing conversation — even if you both bonded over multiple relatable personal matters or happened to be from the very same small town when you grew up — even if they leave the meeting and say to you, “I had a really great time, let’s do this again.” — that still doesn’t give you permission to act like my cat.

I once had someone who, after meeting me once at a networking event, sent me a page-long email one week later proclaiming how “lucky” I was that she selected me to be one of her top 10 “life mentors.” I’ve chosen you, she wrote, because I think you can help me on my path more than anyone else. All I’m asking is for you to review my annual goals with me, meet up every month or so, and hold me accountable for career goals that I’m pursuing. Please reply back with your availability this month so we can schedule our first session together. Won’t this be fun??

That was the closest I’ve ever come to throwing my computer across the room.

Please don’t do that. When it comes to developing long-term relationships with people you admire, it’s imperative that you’re cool about it. Here are a few tricks you might try.

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