I get a lot of email from people who want advice. I usually reply. Sometimes I get an email from someone who is clearly a pain but I’m impressed that he or she asked for help, so I answer. Sometimes I get such a good question from someone that I actually give him or her a call.
I learn a lot from answering peoples’ questions. First, I learn about how to ask for advice because I can listen to how people do it to me. Second, the more I hear myself give the same advice over and over again, the harder it is for me to not take it myself.
Here is an example of someone asking for help in an effective way: She sent one of the thirty press releases in my in box that week. I was interested in a few of her assumptions in the press release, so I emailed her. She wrote back lame answers. I ignored her. Then she wrote an email asking me how she can do better at addressing the press. She asked three, very specific questions. I was impressed at how well she asked me to help her. I made a note to myself to ask such good questions. Then I called her to give some advice.
Here is an example of a different exchange, but one that I have all the time:
Me: “Did you know that outside of schooling, the quality of your network of mentors is the most important factor in how successful your career will be?”
Other person: “But how do I get a mentor?”
Me: “You read a lot and find people you want to be like and send them an email.”
Other person: “What do I ask?”
Me: “How that person overcame the specific hurdles you see yourself facing. And what advice they would give to you to get on a path to achieve what they have.”
But to be honest, it’s not like I do this all the time. So, like I said, the more I give advice the more likely I am to take it, and finally, I decided to try contacting someone I read about. She got a big columnist position that is not in my genre, but the person seemed like a real go-getter and I like her writing. So I emailed her to ask if she could give me some career advice. I sent her some sample columns and I made a little joke about how even the career columnist needs career advice. After all, humility and humor go a long way in getting someone to want to help.
She replied to my email ten minutes later. I couldn’t believe it. I rarely respond to my emails that fast. I decided she was very organized and on top of things and she would really have a lot to teach me. I got excited. And then I got nervous that I wouldn’t have good questions, or that I wouldn’t know how to steer the conversation. So I didn’t call her for three weeks.
Finally, I called. She was so incredibly useless that I can’t believe she writes an advice column. She said she had no career plan for herself. She said she just fell into everything. She said she just lives day to day. I don't believe any of that. She fought too hard to get where she is.
But you know what? I felt great after that call. I felt great that I took action to get a new mentor, even if it didn’t work. I felt great that I read about someone and talked to her. That’s what people should do, and I knew that after having done it once, I would do it again. It wasn’t difficult at all.