Whenever I attend dinner parties or community events, most of the people I come in contact with are involved in healthcare. This makes sense, as both of my parents are physicians, and thus have surrounded themselves with people with similar interests.
However, because my brother and I are both studying computer science, we don’t usually meet family friends that have taken that same path. This was until last week, when I went to a dinner party with my family and met someone who had recently completed a PhD in mathematics and electrical engineering.
My brother and I talked with him for a long time and we learned a great deal about the tech industry, what to study and focus in on, and how to navigate the diverse computer science field.
This event made me think of the power of true experience, and the importance of finding mentors who have traversed the same path that you are on.
True experience in an area is knowledge that can only be gained by personally navigating through that field. For example, to obtain true experience in medicine you would have to become a doctor, nurse, or whatever medical profession you were looking at.
The lessons of true experience cannot be taught in a class; when you enter and work through a career, there are hundreds of small insights that you gain only by virtue of moving through that job. There are many aspects to these insights, and they are deeply personal to your own experience. Because of this, it is difficult to teach them in a class.
The sooner someone has navigated through a field, the more useful their true experience will be. For example, if someone has just finished medical school, their specific insights and tips will be much more relevant and applicable than someone who finished medical school several decades ago.
When you are trying to pursue a career, it’s extremely important that you find mentors who have this kind of knowledge. For most of my life, I was able to go to family friends for general advice on colleges and careers, but could never find specific tips over classes I should be taking and what is or isn’t useful from an expert point of view.
To find mentors who will give you the best advice, there are a few important sets of criteria that you should adhere to.
First, look for someone who has done almost exactly the same thing that you are looking at. The more similar the better. For example, if you are looking for advice over high school classes, find someone who graduated from that same school with similar interests.
Second, it’s better to find people who have recently gone through that field rather than those who are more separated from it. If you are looking for help on a specific class, the best person you can talk to is someone who has done well in that class and has literally taken it the prior semester. That way their knowledge will be the most applicable and fresh. If you discuss with someone who took it several years ago, chances are the curriculum has changed over time, or they might not remember the specific methods that they used in that class.
Whenever you are looking for guidance, find mentors who have the most true experience.
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