Having a mentor totally changed my life—here’s how

I was one of those girls who knew in middle school exactly what college I wanted to go to, what I wanted to major in, and exactly what I wanted my career trajectory to look like. I thought I would be a glamorous publicist like Samantha Jones, living a fabulous life filled with high fashion and fabulous parties.

Cut to junior year of college: I had developed an interest in technology, and realized the tech world was where I wanted to be. To me, this meant San Francisco. I decided then and there I would move to San Francisco after graduation and work at one of the big tech firms, regularly scoring placements in TechCrunch and Re/Code.

And then my longtime boyfriend moved to Los Angeles, a ways a way from my dreams of Silicon Valley. Obviously I was bummed, but tried keep an open mind, so when all of my friends spent their senior year spring break in Punta Cana, I went to Los Angeles and went on several informational interviews with various PR firms. The first few were OK, but I wasn’t super sold on anyone. Then I met an incredibly smart and bubbly woman named Katie, and everything changed.

Katie and I clicked immediately. We’re both Midwest girls (shout out to my fellow Clevelanders!), we’re both highly motivated, we both love a good glass of wine – preferably served with a cheese plate – and we both have the sense of humor of a 13 year-old boy. After about 20 minutes of chatting, I knew I wanted to work for Katie. A few months later I took my first big girl job working as an Account Coordinator at an agency with Katie– and I turned down a job with an agency in Malibu in the process, because I knew having Katie as my mentor was more important than low-key living the dream in the best beach town ever.

Two years later, I’m still working for Katie, and in the process I’ve learned that as a young professional, having a strong mentor is just as important than having your “dream job.” Here’s why:

Mentors give you a better chance of what your dream job actually is

If you’re fairly new to the working world, how do you really know what your “dream job” is? You gotta get out there, put in work, learn from a #GIRLBOSS in your field, and THEN you can identify your “dream job.” That mentor can give you a look at opportunities in your field that you didn’t even know were available.

Having a mentor helps you navigate weird work situations

A mentor will never make you do something you’re not comfortable with, because she views you as a human being first and an employee second. You will undoubtedly encounter a work situation that makes you uncomfortable at some point or another, and a mentor will help you navigate that situation while staying true to your own moral compass—regardless of what that means in the short-term.

Even when jobs end, your mentor stays in the pitcture

A mentor is forever, but a job can be temporary. Nobody can predict the future, and having a strong mentor ensures you have someone in your corner no matter where life takes you. I’ve seen this first-hand. When Katie left our old agency, she went to bat for me and managed to score me a gig at her new one. I know she’ll always have my back, and no paycheck can buy that.

You have a built-in work buddy

Moving to a new city after graduation? Don’t know anyone? BOOM! Your mentor is an automatic friend and confidante. If someone is worthy of mentor status, that means you probably get along very well and trust this person unconditionally. Getting along well and kicking it together in the circle of trust… sounds like friendship to me!

Mentors help you stretch out your wings.

A mentor will help you grow not just professionally, but also personally. Being surrounded by a strong, intelligent woman every day for the last two years has helped me come into my own in so many ways. Katie has taught me to embrace my bold personality (arguably crass sense of humor included) and not apologize for who I am. When you’re surrounded by someone who owns their swagger, I promise it rubs off, and you’ll find yourself much more confident than you ever thought possible.

I can’t emphasize enough what having a badass mentor has done for me, and I’m only two years into my career. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life (haven’t we all?!) but if there’s one decision I wouldn’t change for the world, it’s taking that job with Katie. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to pay it forward, and give some wide-eyed young publicist the same kind of unconditional friendship and guidance that I’ve been lucky enough to receive from my beautiful, brilliant mentor.

Abigail Schiller is Los Angeles-based publicist specializing in startups, technology, and her boss’s French bulldog.  Outside of work, you can find her getting down to some live music, kicking it with friends, sweating it out at SoulCycle, and cheering on all my Cleveland sports teams. Follow her on Twitter @AbigailSchiller.

[Image courtesy NBC]