#155: The Importance of Selecting the Right Mentors (and How to Do It)
David Cancel: We're back for another episode of Seeking Wisdom. We have a mini series going on here with the great illustrious Adam Schoenfeld from the great northwest, joins me to dig into some of these topics, these mental models, these things that baffle us and or at least baffled me, and I'm grateful to have him here. Adam, thanks for helping me do this.
Adam Schoenfeld: Hey, I'm glad to be here to ask you some questions. Let's get right into it.
David Cancel: Actually, Adam is leading all this. I do nothing but answer questions.
Adam Schoenfeld: Well, I'm still younger than you, so the headline of what you wish you knew when you were younger. I am still younger, so maybe I can apply these lessons 10 years ahead of you.
David Cancel: Mm- hmm( affirmative).
Adam Schoenfeld: All right, we're going to talk about mentors and you said," Find mentors who have achieved success in what I want, love, happiness, community, parenting, financial," so let's dig into that. Why did that make the list for you?
David Cancel: Massive one for me. So, we often talk about mentors or I talk about mentors a lot and the importance of it. Now, I had three mentors who really helped me throughout my life, all named Sam, that's a whole another episode. And one of the things that I found in talking to people about the importance of mentors and walking through mentorship and how it works and getting questions from the audience on how do I find one, who's the right one. One thing that I noticed was people were always thinking about it in a single context which was professional, which is obvious. We talked about professional stuff here, but I thought it's important to emphasize that mentors are not only in your professional life. You should be seeking mentors for every dimension of your life, when you want to become a better father. You want to become a better friend. You want to become a better wife or husband. You want to become a better professional. You want to become a better athlete. Whatever it is that you want to do, you want to become a better artist. You should seek out mentors to try to help you and fast- forward your learning, right? So that, you don't have to learn everything on your own. That's point number one. Point number two is now when you get down to the selection criteria, one of the things that we all suffer from, a bias that we all have is this bias to be democratic with our attention, be democratic in terms of who we listen to from an advice standpoint. That's why we've often talked about how powerful the concept of who are the five people that you spend the most time around, right? Like show me your friends or show you your future kind of concept. It's because you will naturally start to model and mimic those that are around you. And one of the biases that we have is that, one, we're democratic with who we pick even if we don't mean to. Meaning that, if you want to get better at becoming a better husband or having a better marriage let's say, listening to your uncle or your friend who's had through, encountered to different divorces, never had a successful relationship, although they're family or your friend, we tend to listen to that person as much as we would, someone who actually has modeled and been successful for a long period of time in the way that we want to. And we do this almost subconsciously, we don't even know that it's happening, and so you have to be very careful about who you model from. And that's why the concept of the people that you spend time around is so true because you're mimicking. And one of the things often that people will push back on and say," Oh no, I know that person has," sometimes they say," Sometimes their advice is really good and sometimes their advice is really bad, but I am going to only listen to the good stuff." And that's a fallacy that we fall ourselves into, that trick that we think that we can separate the good from the bad. We think that even though we're there listening to the bad advice, that we're able to shut down our brains and not subconsciously absorb that. And science has taught us that that's not true. You can't actually do that. And so remember, when you're selecting a mentor, one, be sure to not only select mentors for your professional life, it's as important in all the other dimensions of your life, whether it's love, family, friendships. Those things have to be at the very long horizon. They have to all be balanced, right? That's having a great life. It's not just professional. And then two, be very careful about who you select. Find someone who's the best possible example of what you want to become, even if it's 10, 20, 30 years ahead of where you are now and who has been able to do that, ideally, repeatedly, not just once, but repeatedly over time demonstrated this. And that's who you want to model.
Adam Schoenfeld: This principle about being concentrated with your time. Instead of democratic is so interesting. Like we see that in some hedge funds and some investors where they've actually had success by being concentrated, instead of taking this broad portfolio. When trying to find those mentors, that one or two or three, that you'd be really concentrated with, how do you get to that? Because it strikes me, it might be hard. Like in a first meeting to know, is this somebody that I want to go double, triple down on and be really focused in spending time with and learning from. How do you get to that?
David Cancel: I'd say most of us try to think about selecting a mentor as like we're shopping in a store. Like, we're just going to go up. We're going to pick the right one. This one looks great. And then we're going to buy it. The truth is most people that you want to be your mentor have no time or no interest in becoming your mentor, right? Like they are busy, they're doing a million other things. Why are they going to spend time mentoring with you? So that's a whole another episode we can do on that of like, how do you start that relationship? But to answer your question, how do you convince yourself? Or how do you make sure? And to me, it only comes down to two things. One, is this someone that you instinctually enjoy being around feeling like you can learn from them and you want to be around this person? That's a hard thing to quantify for all of us who want to be logical and quantify everything, but like someone that you naturally want to be around. So that's the instinctive side. And then on the other side is you selecting someone who has a history of doing this repeatedly. This is such an important part. And people love the one- hit wonder kind of story of like this great thing or the latest fad or the most popular person right now, or the person everyone's talking about right now. We want to skip those people. You want to go to someone who's done this a long time, has a long history of being successful in whatever dimension of your life that you're trying to get better at. So I look at, do I want to be around them? Right. So, that's the hard to quantify that, right? That's the quality. And then I quantify it by saying," Let me look at this person's history. Is this who I want to be? Or do I want to aspire to be to this person in whatever dimension?" Right? Not in all aspects of their life. That's a whole another topic on mentors, right? People look for perfect mentors. There's no perfect mentor, or you'll be looking forever. Has this person done what I want to do? And have they have a long track history of being able to do this, right? And you mentioned investors and it's very much like, so I think if you look at some of the best investors that we talk about, you'll notice almost the same pattern that I'm describing, right? No matter how great the arbitrage opportunity for some of those investors are, first, they want to be around people that they want to be around. Making money is not enough to be around toxic people, right? And you see that from the best investors that we, Adam and I, talk about all the time. And then the other is this long history that they're looking for, of repeated success. Those are two things that you see them often betting on.
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah. And can you flip it around from the other side? As somebody who might be mentoring others, what gets you to want to spend the time? Because you mentioned that the people that you want as your mentor are probably hard to access and they're busy. So, thinking about it from the other side, how does the mentee make the relationship compelling for the mentor?
David Cancel: Yeah. This is an unsatisfactory answer, but I'm going to give it to you, anyway. Basically, what it appears to me, right? And there is no science here is, but what it feels like to me having been on both sides of this is that there's something, the mentor sees something in this person usually reminds them of a younger version of themselves. And so there's this thing that happens, right? And I don't know why it happens where they want to look out for this person, that they want it instinctually help them because it's like, oh, that's the, Adam is the younger version. He's the younger version. He's going to be the better version. Like I can help them become a better version. I know that if I spend the limited time that I have and that with this, because this person for whatever reason, and it's not that they look or they have the same background or like any of that stuff. But there's something inherent. There's twinkle in their eye that would just like," I can help this person and they can be a better version." That is usually what I see from the mentor side and that's basically how I select people that I help. And now, I think underneath that, there's probably a coachability aspect that they're looking for, meaning that the person's not just going to do everything that the mentor says, that's not what anybody wants, but that they're going to be coachable, that they're going to hear, that they're actually going to listen to what this person is saying. And they have limited time. And so, they need to listen and they're going to consider, and they're going to be thoughtful about it even if they choose going the opposite direction, right? Like no one... You give advice all the time. We all give advice to people all the time. Nothing is more infuriating than someone who wants advice from you and then basically, is not listening to a word you're saying and is just wants to tell you what they want to tell you. It's such a waste of energy. So that is an important part for the mentor to select the mentee.
Adam Schoenfeld: It kills me that you're not giving me a clear framework or a two- by- two to make these decisions. crosstalk I can map this or seven- step process crosstalk.
David Cancel: I'm dancing around it. The seven- step framework?
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah. But I'll take it. I'll take the intuitive emotional tests that you provided at least.
David Cancel: Yeah. That's funny because anybody knows my Spock- like behavior, but compared to Adam, I'm way less framework than Adam, so it gives you some context for Adam, but what I'm-
Adam Schoenfeld: Way more crazy.
David Cancel: Yeah. Way more crazy. So I'm learning to, especially now, during this and we're recording this during this crazy pandemic that we're all going through the shared experience. I'm really learning and leaning into getting better or trying to develop or becoming more mature on the intuitive side. And it's something that I've been working on for a long time, but like, I'm really leaning into that right now.
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah. You kind of killed me on the reading one, too. Because I thought you were going to give me a perfect framework, what to read and how to read it. And it said, you totally inverted and flipped the script that it is this intuitive finding your way, checking in with your gut, doing what feels right.
David Cancel: Yeah.
Adam Schoenfeld: Well, maybe that's the next level to the game on some of these things.
David Cancel: That's the matrix- like level. That's when you know you're like Neo in the Matrix and you can dodge bullets.
Adam Schoenfeld: Right. There's the Tim Ferriss optimization level and then there's this next level above that, that they aren't talking about on the podcast, but you have to feel it and find it.
David Cancel: Yeah. That reminds of tangent. So I'll go on a wild tangent real quick, but this is what seeking lessons about. I wrote a newsletter recently and if you're not signing up for my personal newsletter, please sign up for that. We'll put a link in the show notes. But I wrote one recently on this very subject that Adam brought up, which is personal productivity. And basically, my rant was that I don't want personal productivity. I hate personal productivity. I don't want any personal productivity, that I chased the idea of be more productive and the Tim Ferriss thing set me off on this, but like be more productive finding tools, the next to- do list, the next note taking app, the next system, the next framework, then the next thing to be more personally productive. And I realized recently, it's really been in this time of reflection that I don't want to be more productive. That's not a goal of my life. I don't want to fit more things in the same amount of time, right? I want the things that I do to have a bigger impact. So want to have a bigger impact, I don't necessarily want to do more things and stuff, more things into the list or to the basket. And so, one thing that really helped me. So this is pseudo framework you could use was like something that I heard Jesse Itzler say probably a couple of years ago now. And he said, he used this idea of like, how many summers do you have left? And that puts everything in perspective. And the way it works is that you take your current age and then you look up for your gender and country that you're living in. What is the average life expectancy for someone like you? And then, you take your age and you take the life expectancy and you figure out the difference. And then, you think about it in terms of summers. For me, I have 30 summers left and that totally, got me out of this personal productivity mode of like, I have 30 summers left. I don't want personal productivity. I don't want to waste the summer on to- do lists and note taking apps because there's only 30 left, right? And young Adam will have like 55 summer as well, probably, but like put... The point still is true. Like even if he thinks about it at that large number, 55, like that's not that many. And then, the next thing that you do is, and this is what really hit me on what Jesse had done was like, then you take the loved ones in your life, right? If you think about your grandparents, if they're alive or your parents, and then you do the same math for them, and then you start to realize, and this is what broke through for him. And he's like," I only have, on average, I have seven summers left with my dad." Totally cleared everything, right? Reprioritizes everything in your life. So anyway, that was a rant, but it had to do a personal productivity and why we can't get lost in this wanting to be perfectly predictable or productive or never leading into intuition.
Adam Schoenfeld: Well, it ties to mentors, which we started talking about too, because if you over framework, if you're over scripting, if you're overthinking it in terms of, I need to build this funnel, I need to have end conversations with a mentor, I need to vet them in this particular way, right? Then, you can lose track of what you're really after. And I'm curious maybe to close with asking you, what does a great conversation with one of your mentors look and feel like? What's the north star on that?
David Cancel: I think that's an important point that you brought up there before I answer your question, which was like, if you use that framework, how many summers you have left. Like for me, I have 30 summers left, so I'm not going to procrastinate and take five summers. Five years finding the perfect mentor, right? So like that would be a waste, but you have to really put everything in context. But in terms of like, what is the perfect conversation with a mentor? I will say that all of the great conversations that I've had with my mentors felt really crappy when I was having the conversation. They did not feel great at all, right? Because they were usually telling me things that I did not want to hear, but in retrospect were right and I needed to hear them. And in the best cases, even though I didn't want to hear them, I actually absorbed them. When I reflected on, in the worst case, I totally ignored them. But they were telling me things that I did not want to hear at the time, did not want to believe was true. Those are the best conversations, but those were also the most uncomfortable conversations you can imagine. But I think, all these things run parallels in our lives. If you ask the best athletes in the world, what was the best coaching session you had? I bet it wasn't a comfortable coaching session, right? It was probably a very tough coaching session and one that they did not appreciate or like at the time.
Adam Schoenfeld: Makes me think of what we talk about at Drift, the beat downs.
David Cancel: You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable in... Not always, you don't want to live a life like that. When you're trying to grow in any dimension in your life, it's going to be naturally uncomfortable, right? That is what causes growth.
Adam Schoenfeld: Totally. Right. I mean, anti- fragile, it seems right. Systems need stressors.
David Cancel: Or else they can't grow. They can't get better.
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Any closing thoughts on mentors that you want to share?
David Cancel: I would say don't get too wrapped up in finding a perfect mentor because there is no perfect person. Everyone that you consider a mentor, every human walking, the planet, every one that you listened to our podcasts, including, and especially myself is highly flawed. But you want to focus on that mentor for the quality that you're trying to repeat. They're not going to be perfect in every other quality. That's why you're going to need multiple mentors, not a single mentor.
Adam Schoenfeld: Perfect. Thanks DC. Thanks everyone for listening.
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