A few years ago, I was watching an interview with the 81-year-old actress and activist Jane Fonda. At one point, the discussion turned to mentoring.  Jane admitted that when she was young, she had access to so many talented actors, but she never reached out to any of them.  She went on to say that in all of her years, only one actress has to come her for advice and counsel. She seemed disappointed that the life lessons she’s accumulated over her 50+-year career haven’t been shared with more people.

Lady Gaga (age 33) and Tony Bennett (age 93) are an unlikely pair and yet they have much in common.  They’re both jazz lovers, art lovers, they’re Italian Americans and they only live a block apart in New York. Lady Gaga has been very open about how Tony Bennett has impacted her life. When asked what she brought to her friendship with Tony, she said, “I hope what I’ve given to Tony is a moment for him to bask in how many people’s lives he’s really changed.” 

A friend of mine has wanted to enter politics since she was a little girl. Her mother suggested that she contact the retired governor of the state. He agreed to meet and suggested they get together for coffee the very next day. After a two-hour meeting, my friend went away with invaluable information. He gave her advice that could only have come from someone who had been in the trenches. And, he was at the stage in life where he didn’t have anything to protect. This kind of connection could have never been obtained from a company-assigned mentor.

It made me stop and wonder if companies aren’t trying too hard to forge mentoring relationships. I’m not dissing company-sponsored mentoring programs. In fact, in theory, I’m a huge proponent. What I am saying is that a truly meaningful mentoring relationship may be the one you find for yourself.  And, the very best mentor may be retired or within a few years of retirement. People at this stage of life are more available, more reflective and appreciate being asked.   

Whether you’re a student, a recent graduate or an experienced professional, don’t wait for a mentor to be assigned to you. In my experience, the best mentoring relationships aren’t a result of a program; they’re the result of initiative. No one can give you a meaningful mentoring relationship – you have to make it. So, take a risk and reach out to someone with a world of experience who’s ready to give back to the world.