… is important.
Finding the right person to work with, who may not be the nicest, the easiest to get along with, or the ‘best fit’ right away, is a big part of that. You don’t always know these things at the start, and looking for those aspects first (nice, easy to get along with, a ‘good fit’) can land you in a heap of a mess when you get to know them. Maybe they don’t know their stuff like you thought they did (rockstar syndrome, or they just present really well and talk a great game but don’t have the chops to back it up). Maybe they do know their stuff really well, but can’t teach worth a damn. Or maybe, after all, you just don’t fit even if you thought it would be a match made in heaven at first. A big part of all that is, of course, knowing (or at least arbitrarily deciding for the time being, in the knowledge that you can always change later) what you want out of the mentorship and where you want to be going.
Commitment is important, but so is an exit strategy. Any good mentor should know that and even put it out at the beginning: they can throw you off the property, out of the deal, with such-and-such notice. Or have a clear 2-week trial or probation period. Look for someone that at the outset, has their boundaries clear, because that means they’re experienced enough to know not to get all enthusiastic about the first wingnut overeager newbie that lands on their doorstep. (That would be you, dimwit).
And at the same time – don’t let them intimidate you (too much). Ask for mentorship. Reach out to people you really admire and ask to learn from them. I wish I’d known how willing people would be to help me earlier on; instead I came on as an early 20-something, feeling all guarded and insecure about where I stood, and at the same time, a bit defensive because I was supposed to be confident (but wasn’t), and so I made a hot mess out of what might have been some fantastic mentorship arrangements. And then later, when I got some of that sorted out, I made an even bigger mess by committing all-in, whole-heart, and most-of-my-savings to an arrangement that just wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go, ever, and I couldn’t see it.
I’m excited now because even though I’m about twenty (20!) years later than I would have liked to be, I think I’ve found a good mentor. I’ve reached out, and they’re responding positively. They know their stuff, and others know them and vouch for them. They know how to teach because they’re doing it all the time. I’m intimidated but not overly insecure; nervous, but not timid and certainly not going to let it get in the way of asking naive questions, getting good answers, and finding out what I need to know to get where I want to be going.