4 Lessons I've Learned from My Mentors (And 1 From Ina Garten)

This summer we're joined by Erica Pais, a student at Colgate University who is interning with our Marketing department. To read more of Erica's writing on our blog, head to her article, "The Unsung Women Changing Food." 

Throughout my lifetime, I have had countless mentors, from bosses to co-workers to my own parents. Each of these mentors has offered so much valuable advice and positive examples of living a happy and successful life. Without them, I would not be where I am today, a business owner at 21-years-old and an intern at an awesome company like Chicory.

As a college student on the brink of embarking on a professional career, I feel ready to enter and take on the ever-intimidating “real world” thanks to guidance from these mentors. So, I thought thought I would share some of the most valuable lessons they have taught me, in the interest of “sharing the wealth.” Whether you’re building a startup, expanding your blog or making a career change, these tips just might shape your mindset and the way you go about moving forward.

Speak with confidence, but not arrogance.

This is a piece of advice from Yuni, one of my mentors, who happens to be Chicory’s CEO and Co-Founder! At school, I am part of a startup incubator for student ventures, called Thought Into Action. The program matches students with mentors that have business expertise and knowledge to help us turn our ideas into reality. A couple of months ago, I was speaking about the progress I had made with my venture, Baking Connections. Afterwards, Yuni mentioned that I tend to speak with an upward inflection at the end of sentences. This communicates a tone of uncertainty in what I am saying. He advised me to speak with conviction. When speaking about something that you care so much about, you do indeed know what you are talking about. Just a couple weeks later, I was able to stand up on stage and pitch Baking Connections to a room of 150 people. It was easy to see that the confidence in my voice helped me stay relaxed and keep the audience engaged and excited about my presentation.

Asking questions is not a sign of weakness.

I have been lucky enough to work with some excellent co-workers and bosses at my current and previous internships. Upon entering a new work environment, I know I’m eager to impress our supervisors with our skills and knowledge. The issue is that too often, this desire actually holds us back. We try to figure out everything on our own and are afraid to ask questions, with the fear appearing incapable. Thankfully, upon entering new jobs, each of my supervisors has told me that it is okay to ask questions when I am lost. And so I do… without asking Hillary (Chicory’s Marketing Manager), about the best tools for scheduling tweets, I would be logging onto Twitter all night to post new content. Asking questions can shows that you are eager to learn, improve and grow as an employee and an individual.

Speak up when you want or need something.

This tip relates to the point above, but also refers to life outside of work on the job. In my experience starting a business, I have found this mentor tip unbelievably helpful. From fundraising to asking for advice, you need to speak up if there is something you want or need. No one is capable of reading your mind. If you do not ask, you will not receive. When it comes to asking for help, be clear about what you need. There are plenty of people that want to see you succeed and are willing to help you get there, so speak up! Just as important, remember to show appreciation for those people that offer you their time and support. For me, this has been essential to growing my business. When I first got started, I knew that I wanted a professional logo, but did not have the design skills myself. All it took was a phone call to a graphic designer friend and boom! I had a new logo that I loved and still use today.

Get out there are talk to people.

Networking is one of the most powerful skills you can (and should) understand. Networking is about building relationships, NOT about getting what you want from new contacts. With relationships and connections comes advice and guidance, over time. Not sure where to start? Brainstorm a list of people you look up to, personally and professionally. Don’t be afraid to reach out over email or even LinkedIn. On December break during my Freshman year, I took a chance and emailed a friend of a friend that had just started a baking business. After some back and forth, she invited me to her home office, where I spent the day learning how to properly frost a chocolate cake and make buttercream roses. Let’s just say I was in heaven. A friendly hello and introduction can go a long way. Hop on a phone call or invite someone you admire out for coffee. Many great conversations start over a cup of joe! You never know who you might meet, quite possibly your next mentor!

Each of us has a lot to learn from others. Connecting with a great mentor can set you up for a lifetime of happiness and success. Whether you are trying to improve your blog, make a career change or figuring out your next move, look to mentors for advice and support. With any big or seemingly daunting transition in life, remember the words of my unofficial/dream mentor, Ina Garten: take risks! If it is not scary, anyone could do it!