{getting it} The Imaginary Mentor

by Rachel on February 9, 2012

So my friend Caitlin and I were chatting about life as she took photos of me — because talking career plans whilst 95 percent naked is kinda my thang — and we got onto the topic of an upcoming photography presentation she was going to. As soon as she started talking about it, she just started gushing. Basically, a photographer she adores on so many levels is doing a speaking tour and Caitlin is attending. I had never heard of the photographer, but I was so excited for her because I could tell how much this woman meant to her. I have that woman too, as do a lot of my friends. I’ve started calling this woman the imaginary mentor.

Here is how I define my imaginary mentor. She’s successful, well-known, and well-respected in my particular field and there is something about her I can identify with, even if it’s for small or slightly delusional reasons. When I start telling people about her, I just start gushing. She isn’t necessarily famous, but I’d get completely starstruck if I ever saw her in public, even though most people wouldn’t bat an eye because they don’t know what a big deal she is. (I get very frustrated with these people, another sign I’ve found an imaginary mentor.) I get a little giddy when I see her name in print, even if she’s just being quoted as an expert in an article I come across. And she has the exact career I want to have in 10 or 15 or 20 years, the one I couldn’t even really describe until I saw how she’s doing it. But I know exactly how she’s doing it because I stalk her via the Internet.

Oh, and stalk I do! What I love is that social media has made finding an imaginary mentor so much easier. Ten years ago, I didn’t know about all the amazing women who were out there doing really great work. I may have known the big names, but I didn’t know about all the totally successful-and-brilliant-but-not-quite-Time-magazine-person-of-the-year women who could inspire me. Now, though, I do. Through blogs, Twitter, and online communities, I can easily find these women and, by extension, find a lot of inspiration.

The other thing wonderful thing about social media is that it can help your imaginary mentors naturally evolve into your real-life mentors. I mean, yes, it starts out with me as a fangirl, pretty much peeing my pants if she ever tweets back at me, and trying not to just gush about how amazing I think she is…but eventually, if I play it cool (ha), it can turn into a real mentorship. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: you can and should use your social networks for networking. If all you’re doing on social networks is talking to friends, posting pictures of yourself, stalking dates, and seeing if people from high school got pregnant or fat, you’re missing a huge opportunity to network with your imaginary mentor and then make her your real mentor. By commenting on your imaginary mentor’s blog, interacting with her on Twitter, or even shooting her a genuine e-mail, you can easily start building that relationship. I love how social media has made imaginary mentors actually accessible.

My imaginary mentor is Amy Spencer, which is probably pretty obvious from how I was gushing about her last week. She’s also a great example of how I’ve started building a real relationship with someone who seemed total untouchable at first. While she’s an awesome imaginary mentor, I’ve also been thinking it would be good to come up with a few more for myself, because, really, the more great women I have to look up to, the better.

Anyway, I really wanted to share this idea with you all, because I’m curious if a lot of other people have this person. So tell me: do you have an imaginary mentor? Who is she and why do you love her? Let the gushing begin!