Finding a mentor in the workplace

Throughout National Mentoring Month, we will be highlighting different perspectives on The Mentor Effect from community leaders across Massachusetts. Today's perspective comes from VP of User Experience Tom Weisend from Rue La La. An interaction design professional for 16 years, Tom now leads the charge at Rue La La for building a unique and meaningful brand experience across all customer touch points.

Tom W HeadshotToday, I am the vice president of creative at Rue La La, where I oversee all areas of our creative team. Rue La La is an exciting online shopping destination based in Boston that in less than six years has grown to 10 million members. But I didn’t get here on my own, and I attribute my success, in part, to the fortune of finding a mentor and the joy of learning from her for the formative years of my career.

You see, I didn’t start out on the road to be a creative director for a fashion and lifestyle company. My path was a bit more roundabout than that. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I majored in political science at Boston University, but came to the realization that law school was not in the cards for me because the law wasn’t my passion. I had fallen in love with writing and, especially, journalism. Clearly, this was not a decision based on future fortune, but how I wanted to spend my time as an adult. How would I make the transition into a field that I wasn’t suited for, at least from an educational standpoint?

Enter Judy Warner, the person that would have more of an impact on my career than any other person. The short story is that I took an administrative job at a high-tech marketing magazine, hoping, hoping to gain a foothold in the editorial department. It was there that Judy, an associate editor, took me under her wing. She was born for journalism – her personality was geared toward probing for an answer. She knew a lot, and was willing to teach me. She began to give me little assignments, and with her guidance, those led to bigger ones. When that magazine was bought by Adweek, I was given a full editorial title: reporter. The first person I thanked was Judy.

Over the next 11 years, I rose through the ranks, all while having the great good fortune to have my mentor as my editor. She taught me so much more than cultivating sources and sourcing stories. She taught me about critical thinking, about solving problems in various ways, about how to listen and when to interrupt. She taught me how to manage relationships, manage direct reports and manage difficult personalities. She knew how to challenge me to make my work better and never make it personal. She taught me to see the humor and absurdity in situations, and not to quit because of what made them absurd. The skills she taught me took me way beyond journalism; she was instrumental in giving me an immersion in the most important skills I have acquired professionally: how to concept, create and execute solutions in the best way possible. It gave me confidence.  It gave me a path.

I left journalism in the late 1990s and pursued a career change into the creative and branding world. And even though I wasn’t working with Judy anymore (she is still an exceptional editor and out there, mentoring other fortunate people) what my mentor had taught me was so transportable. Those critical and communication skills are still in use by me today, every day, often honed and refined, but the principles are the same.

As you pursue your passion, or simply find work that interests you, you’ll have way more questions than answers. You’ll need to listen more than you will need to talk. And you need to make a connection with someone who can help you acquire the skills and talents you’ll need. It’s on you as much as it is on your mentor. When you find a worthy mentor, the advice, skills and support they can give you will stick with you throughout your life. Having this relationship, whether you are the mentor or the mentee, is exceptional and should never be taken for granted.

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