How to find the best UX mentor
This post is the third in a series devoted to pointing out How being a jock makes me a better UX Designer. Also, be sure to check out the second post UX and Sports? Ya, Damn Right! (oh, and if you are coming to Interaction 12 be sure to check out my talk How being a jock makes a better interaction designer!).
I can’t tell you how often I hear user experience professionals and designers talk about wishing they had proper mentorship. It is obviously something that is lacking in our field, as well as something that people are begging for. In this case, given that there is a clear lack of official mentorship, I think it is important for us to ask ourselves, ‘what if we never get the mentor that we are looking for? Will we then allow our careers and expertise to lack and suffer? Will we continue to go on and complain that it is the fault of the UX field not providing us a mentor that has disabled our ability to progress?’. Obviously this is something we’d like to avoid. So thinking of the problem another way, I was thinking that maybe it is possible that we are just not taking advantage of the mentor opportunities that are right in front of us. And we are not doing so, simply because they aren’t officially labeled as ‘mentor opportunities’. So in order to solve this issue, I think we should all take a step back and take a look at one lesson learned from being a jock that can help us solve this problem. That is: Leadership/mentorship comes in many different forms, it’s up to us to recognize it.
Every sports team has a captain, right? Just like most UX teams have a lead, someone who is to guide the UX approach and knowledge transfer for everyone. But, what happens when that person sucks or doesn’t do their job of leading and teaching others, or just doesn’t exist at all? Well, you could sit down and grumble or you could recognize your other options. The problem with sitting down and grumbling is simply that no progress is ever made on your end. You will never get the leadership and mentorship you need from someone that sucks at being a leader and mentor, and by continue to perpetrate the problem by expecting a different result from the same crappy person, you are just causing yourself to be more bitter.
So, we turn to the wide world of sports for our answer. I have been a part of many sports teams. Some have had great captains who have taught me how to excel, many have not. When I found myself on the teams that did not have the leadership I wanted, I went out and looked for it from other sources. I observed those on the sports team who I wanted to play like, and I asked them for help in every step of the way. Whenever they had a down moment, I asked them to show me a new move, or explain to me their line of thinking. I did this both inside my team and outside. I would play sports outside of my ‘official’ teams, and there I would find mentors in the least expecting of characters. The important thing to note is that by exposing myself to different experiences, and not rooting myself in my anger, I was able to see beyond my situation and grow as a athlete with or without my captain. You see, leadership and mentorship is a two way street. Sports taught me this. I could rely on just the captain or the coach or I could rely on myself to find and respect real leadership. The choice was up to me.
By applying this same methodology to my UX career, I was able to find leads and mentors without waiting for someone to assign them to me. I was then able to extract the type of information and insight I needed and wanted to grow into the UX professional that I am today. I am still using this methodology to grow even further (so yes if you’ve gotten a random email or tweet question from me, you have contributed to my mentoring… thank you :-)). Leadership and mentorship is something I’ve learned both how to do, as well as to extract from others. By doing so, I have become the master of my own destiny. Yes, that can seem scary when you don’t trust yourself, but the more information you are able to gather from others about your profession, the more you are able to internalize that information and build yourself up into the person and professional you want to be. That is… the leader of you.