The Power of a Good Mentor

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About the Author

Meet Anna Cook. Anna is a Senior User Experience Designer in Denver pursuing her MS at ATLAS CU-Boulder. A designer since 2012, she specializes in building inclusive products and creating scalable systems to support accessible practices across product teams. She is a continuous learner/teacher and passionately advocates for mentorship for all women, regardless of where they are at in their life or career. In this article, Anna shares her career and life changing experience with her mentor. Enjoy!

You can learn more about Anna and the work that she does at Anna’s blog. You can follow her instagram here.

The Power of a Good Mentor

I’ve been a User Experience (UX) Designer since 2012, and I’ve had many mentors since then. I’ve had mentors who I met at events, mentors I used to work with, and yes, even mentors who managed me. All of these relationships offered exactly what I needed to grow at the time. But in this article, I want to talk about one mentor who came at precisely the right time just about a year ago. She re-shaped not only my career but also my entire life.


Before I tell you about this awesome mentor I had, I want to talk about the type of person I was before I met her. I was a classic example of one of the women in How Women Rise (a book I would highly recommend by the way). I was a high-achiever but somehow stuck in my career and life. Here are some of the habits I had before my mentor came along:

  • I said yes to every type of gig, task, or responsibility.
  • I didn’t understand how to sell myself or my work.
  • I devalued myself and found ways to make less doing more without meaning to.
  • I worked overtime thanklessly, and even without being asked to.
  • I always assumed my work would speak for me, and that if I just kept at it that I would naturally excel.
  • I spent a lot of time trying to fix my weaknesses, even when it meant doing things I didn’t enjoy or find value in.
  • I didn’t know how I could lead, or what I could uniquely offer.

As I said, I had mentors before who helped me cultivate essential skills on top of the expertise I needed as a UX Designer. Saying yes to it all, working my heart out, delivering non-stop overly meticulous work: these were the skills that took me to where I was. But unfortunately, a lot of those skills also played into these bad habits. At six years into my career, those skills were no longer serving me. I had stopped growing and was stalling. I was wandering in the dark with no guidance. Yet, I had little idea this was happening until I met Mary.

My “Why”

When I met Mary last year, I had just transitioned to a new team working on an entirely different product. I had gone from working on a native app to a public website. It was a time of transition, which wasn’t helping with my lack of direction.

When Mary was brought on as my lead, I had a minimal idea of who she was. For some reason, I expected Mary to be like me. So when she walked in with spirit animal cards, polished rocks, and essential oils, I was a little surprised. I was even more taken aback when Mary scheduled a one-on-one with me biweekly. I wondered what we could possibly have to discuss so often?

When we sat down for our first chat, Mary straightforwardly asked me what my goals were and what I wanted to do at work and in my free time.

My goals? My plan? What is this an interview?

I got anxious and wracked my brain for responses, rattling off some half-hearted answers, “Err, probably spend some time putting together better interaction designs? Brush up on some HTML and CSS?”

Mary nodded thoughtfully, and when I finished, she paused with a breath. “Is this what you want to do, or is this what you think you’re expected you do to? These are fine things to work on, but why do they fit into your goals?”

Why do I want to do these things? What even are my goals?

That was the moment I realized Mary would be a good mentor for me. For the first time in years, someone had asked me for my “why.” She had challenged me to go further, and I had to reacquaint myself with my motivations.

There was more to it than this one conversation. Over six months, I found myself changing my expectations and shifting my energy towards the things that actually matter to me. Mary showed me that I had outgrown my previous five-year plan and the skills I needed at the beginning of my career. Our biweekly meetings focused on discovering my new goals and figuring out how to meet them. By merely asking “why,” Mary had started a chain reaction that changed everything.

It might seem obvious to “dig deeper” to figure out your goals, but we rarely have someone in our lives to guide us through this exploration. A mentor is invaluable in understanding our goals, why we have them, and how to achieve them. Mentors are like a guide holding a lantern in a dark forest: sure you could probably get through that forest on your own, but it would be a lot more painful and take way longer.

One Year Later

Over the past year, I’ve been able to flourish with Mary’s help, and in time, with less direction. I’ve gone from being uncertain of my destination to knowing exactly where I want to go and how I plan to get there. I am now empowered to go further than ever before and find joy in doing it. We didn’t just establish my new career goals, but also my new personal goals. So what did Mary do for me that really changed everything?

1. Challenged me

As I mentioned, one of the main reasons I think Mary is a fantastic mentor is because, from the moment we met, she challenged me. Mary was a good mentor for me, precisely because she wasn’t like me. She observed the patterns of my personality and work style, then found ways to help me improve, offering candid but valuable feedback. This was essential for me because I needed someone to push me to grow in new ways.

2. Gave me the power to say “no.”

At the beginning of my career, I was encouraged to say “yes,” to any type of work. As I’ve said, this was essential at the time, but when it comes to leveling up your career and prioritizing your time, “no” is invaluable. I’ve even found that strength helpful for setting up personal boundaries. It’s so important because it’s about prioritizing your time for the things that matter most. Every time you say ‘yes’ to one task, you’re actually saying ‘no’ to another. We only have so much time in the day, there is only so much you can do. Mary taught me to say ‘yes’ to the work that matters most to me.

3. Taught me to embrace my strengths first

Mary helped me realized the importance of appreciating my unique skillset. We all have overlapping capabilities, but let’s be real, some of us are better at some things than others. That’s ok. More importantly, there are some things I like doing more than others. It’s great to improve your weaknesses, but it’s more valuable to capitalize on your strengths. Mary helped me learn what my advantages actually are and embrace them. Now that I actually know my strengths, I can appreciate them and use them to do the work I love and do it well.

4. Encouraged me to do what I love

I know the boss/mentor thing is not recommended by some folks, but in my case, the dynamic was healthy and fruitful. A large part of why it worked well was because Mary found ways to encourage me to do what I love at my job and in my free time. She managed to help guide me even while being my boss, perhaps in part, because she was my boss. It’s how I re-affirmed that I love my career and the reason I am now brave enough to speak at events, publish articles like this, specialize in inclusive UX, and pursue a Master’s degree.

5. Showed me how to be a great mentor

In my time working with Mary, I also learned something else: I love teaching and mentoring. It’s a big reason why I’ve taught for TechGirlz and why I am pursuing my Master’s. I’ve taken what I’ve learned from Mary and used it to help build up the people I am fortunate enough to mentor. It’s a beautiful experience on both sides, and I am enjoying it immensely!

A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be doing what I’m doing now, but I am here, and it’s fantastic! I’m more successful than I’ve ever been, and more content than I have been in a long time. I have direction and am passionate about the work I get to do. For me, that was the power of one good mentor.

“I hope to show you how big of an impact one great mentor can have on your life, career, and goals.”

You can learn more about Anna and the work that she does at Anna’s blog. You can follow her instagram here.

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