The myth of advisors, mentors, and the help of powerful people
Every story about a journey has some sort of person who steps in and helps save the day. This person might have some secret knowledge or ability to help the main character navigate the darkness, or they provide the moral companionship and guidance the character needs.
Take Frodo and Samwise in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo had to carry the ring, but Samwise was with him every step of the way. Even when Frodo’s mindset became corrupted with evil and he could not see that Gollum was leading him into danger, Samwise provided the moral companionship that Frodo needed on his journey.
As entrepreneurs, we step into these tumultuous paths, and when things get really hard and confusing, we start looking for our Samwise—the person who will stand beside us, offer us guidance, and be our wisdom and guiding light during those times when we feel like we are drifting and lost. Of course, we are told that this person should also be powerful and have tons of experience and a huge network of connections with the types of people who can make your company a success.
Wouldn’t that be nice? But the thing is, you can’t just put out an ad for this person. “Epic companion wanted for perilous journey of early-stage entrepreneurship. Compensation zero. Likelihood of success low.”
So why can’t the dream of the well-connected, powerful mentor be true?
Because they are busy. They might like you, they may dig what you are doing, but unless they are actually putting skin into the game and hopping onboard (as investors or otherwise) they are not your Samwise.
These people are helpful to keep a relationship with, ask for their advice, or solicit an important introduction or connection, and hopefully you do the same for them. But these mentors are usually not the epic legendary companions that we often think they will be. They are not usually the person who will journey alongside us and be helpful and intuitive, warning us of the dangers ahead. (There are exceptions, of course.)
Don’t cultivate unrealistic hope for yourself that mentors will be more than they are. That is not fair to anyone, them or you. And talk about a lot of pressure!
You’ll most likely find your Samwise in other entrepreneurs—people who are like you going through what you are going through.
What about all the great secret knowledge and abilities you’re missing out on from the help of those big, powerful mentors?
Of course the powerful Gandalf believed in Frodo, and he popped in to help when he could, but he had some pretty big fish to fry on his own. Frodo ultimately completed his journey because of Samwise, another hobbit who knew him, knew where he came from, and understood his nature.
Founders and entrepreneurs aren’t so different from hobbits in this way. (Though our feet are probably less hairy). I have seen entrepreneurs help one another in ways that they don’t help anyone else. When things go down (whether bad or good), having a tightly knit group of fellow entrepreneurs will often help mitigate, guide, protect, and leverage you in incredible ways.
Why? They know what it’s like, they know what you are going through, and they know you’d do it for them.
Rather than wonder where your powerful stable of impressive mentors and advisors is going to appear, can you assemble yourself a powerful group of fellow entrepreneurs? Maybe this is something you are already doing. If so, double down and let someone become the Samwise to your Frodo.
Do you know any other like-minded entrepreneurs with whom you can cultivate these types of helping relationships? Like soliciting an advisor, it’s as easy as reaching out for a coffee chat and letting them know you’d like to help them in any way you can.
Still looking for your Samwise? You might find this post helpful: The Real Story Behind Making a Comeback.
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