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On Finding Mentors That Inspire a Great Career and Life

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There’s a great saying that I believe in wholeheartedly: you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. What this says to me is that you have the choice of surrounding yourself with people that either push you up or pull you down.

This was a real theme that came out in a conversation I recently had with an inspiring guy, and fellow Cobar kid, Matt Harland, on the Full Production podcast. He went from life as a pretty uninspired kid, who lost his father early, to an accomplished engineer working in mining and civil construction, and a career that’s taken him from the copper mines of Mount Isa to earning an MBA at the Copenhagen Business School. He later went on to the travel the world promoting the MBA program.

What’s particularly interesting about Matt’s story is how mentors, both formal and informal, have played a big part in inspiring him to these career and life highlights.

Surround Yourself With People That Inspire You

Going back to that saying I mentioned at the start, I prefer to think of it in broader terms – anyone and everyone you surround yourself with plays a part in how you see yourself and your life – for good or bad.

Matt said it best: “I’ve noticed from time to time you can end up with some toxic mates. That’s just natural, right? If you hang around with dickheads, you’re going to be a dickhead, but if you hang around with millionaires, you’re going to be a millionaire,” he says. You can’t put it better than that.  

The lesson is, choose carefully.

Mentors Can Be Formal And Informal

As Matt’s story showed, a mentor doesn’t have to be some kind formal arrangement, though those can be hugely beneficial, like those you might have with a boss or more experienced colleague that you have a good relationship with.

But informal relationships can also play a part in that kind of mentoring role. Take Matt’s example. Various people helped inspire him to take the leap into the business world and the MBA program in Copenhagen. “They were all very different,” he says. “These guys were just guys I’d met here and there and at the right time. This one particular guy was the general manager of Microsoft in Singapore.” For Matt, all of these meetings were like signposts in the right direction.

I think the lesson here is taking an interest in all sorts of people, listen to them, learn from them, and their experiences might inspire yours.

Be Inspired, But Follow Your Own Head And Heart

It’s important to be inspired, but, ultimately, your decisions are your own. You can’t play somebody else’s game. Again, Matt has some great thoughts on this. “For me, one of my key learnings in life is, particularly when you lose a father as a young fella, you have that male role model that’s been there and all of a sudden he’s gone. So I think the learning for me was always surrounding myself with strong male figures,” he says. “I think if my father was still there, I probably would never have looked for that, but because he wasn’t, I did notice that all of a sudden I did have these pretty influential, pretty inspiring characters in my life, and a lot of them. I would say that a lot of my big decisions have come from these mentors, not because they made them, but because I was confident in where they were in life that I could justify the decisions I needed to make and they supported that.”

Now there’s a great lesson for all of us.

You can hear the entire conversation with Matt Harland here.