How to find your real-life Oprah — and why having a mentor can change your life

Photo courtesy of Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah Winfrey is incomparable. She’s got an innate ability to inspire in a way that’s essentially unprecedented, which is why so many people (male and female!) think of her as a life coach. Sure, she’s speaking to millions of people across the globe, but somehow it feels personal. It feels like she’s tailored her words just for your specific issue.

It’s awesome that we all have Oprah as this omnipotent resource. But while it may be comforting to rely on famous figures for advice and guidance, the truth is that in order to maximize opportunities and live your best life, you’ll need to seek out your own real-life Oprah.

Why? Well, Oprah may be able to dole out motivational quotes and anecdotes, but she’s not actually getting your resume in front of the right people. It’s important to build your network, and mentors are a great pathway to new doors. Mentors get to know you personally, so they can vouch for you when it counts, offering recommendations or helping to facilitate interviews. A real-life mentor knows you and your goals — and unfortunately, Oprah (probably) doesn’t have the time to sit down and have that ongoing conversation.

On International Women’s Day 2018, 1,000 Dreams Fund co-hosted Full STEAM Ahead, a panel discussion about advancing possibilities for young women in science, tech, engineering, arts and mathematics. The topic of mentors resurfaced over and over again. An ideal mentor has some of those qualities we all admire in Oprah: He or she is successful, confident, motivational and eager to help others. Ready to find your own personal Oprah? Keep these tips in mind.

Our founder Christie Garton with 1DF Student Advisory Board member Zaniya Lewis for a recent mentorHER moment at our D.C. HQ!

Tip 1: When seeking out that Oprah-level mentor, do your homework.

LinkedIn and social media are your friends here. You want to identify someone who, in some ways, feel like future versions of your best self. And remember, this doesn’t have to be a gendered decision. A young woman’s perfect mentor may be male — no big deal! You also want to find someone who genuinely wants to make time for you. Many people do. But if someone seems resistant to devoting true time and energy to the relationship, move on. Don’t stalk people!

Tip 2: Think outside your own company

For professionals in their 30s and beyond, especially women, it can feel more difficult to find that perfect mentor. One speaker on the Full STEAM panel noted that she sought out a mentor by joining an organization of other senior-level working women of all industries. Mentorship doesn’t have to come from someone who has your exact same interests and long-term goals. In fact, someone from a totally different field may offer the best advice you’ve ever heard.

Tip 3: Be prepared to modify your personal style of communicating with other professionals

A mentor provides much-needed insights about how professionals interact with each other. Many recent grads lack an understanding of how to properly communicate with colleagues and higher-ups — which can lead to some super embarrassing situations! The last thing any entry-level employee wants is to inadvertently create an awkward moment with her manager. (Then you have to lie in bed all night and dwell on it, playing it over and over in your head. We’ve all been there.)

Tip 4: Once you’ve identified someone who seems to check all the boxes, reach out!
It’s on you to establish that initial contact and get the ball rolling. If you have the opportunity to start an in-person conversation, take it. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you. And if email is your only option, remember, you may have to follow up until you get a response.

That final tip is the most important: Never underestimate the power of getting in touch. If your dream mentor happens to be a famous actress or a Fortune 500 CEO or a world-famous media icon named Oprah Winfrey, shoot an email. The worst that can happen is you get no response — and the best that can happen can be life-changing.

Christie Garton, Founder & CEO of the 1,000 Dreams Fund