From time to time I revisit the arsenal of old commentaries, tips and articles that I've come across from the random Google search about "mentors" or "morale at work" and other workday malaise-related keywords that I use. I keep these things in case I ever have the opportunity to present my new "big idea" to The Powers That Be and need to throw together a memo of sources supporting my nutty new approach to keeping employees happy. It's not that I'm not happy, mind you. Sometimes I'm just stifled. And like many of you, dear readers, I am a department of one, Jane-of-all-trades, over-tasked and overwhelmed with responsibilities. And when I think of all the possibilities that might once again invigorate my ability to create, innovate and inspire, the one outcome that seems most reasonable is the presence of a mentor. Someone who can shower me with wisdom and advice; ensure me that I am on the right track or help me steer clear of disaster. Yet, where does one find such a sage adviser? In my quest to answer my own question, I provide you with some of what I've uncovered.

Mentors Come in Many Forms

A mentor might be a person outside of your organization. It might be a new book written by an expert in the field. Such came across my desk the other day, and while I'm only a chapter or two deep, I am hopeful that this might be the spark. How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman. The book isn't so much a How-to but more of a "Why's that?" or "How so?" as Ms. Millman, one of design journalism's leaders, delves into the minds of some of the most well-known creative minds, like Milton Glaser, Michael Bierut, Abbott Miller and Massmo Vignelli, among others. Also, often seen in my clutches is "Getting Real", the founding philosophy of the rock stars known as 37 signals. Their book's mantra helps to deliver better results because it forces you to deal with the actual problems you're trying to solve instead of your ideas about those problems. It forces you to deal with reality. I consider this one a must have for any software developer, designer or manager. Applicable to most any work area and their strategies are likely to inspire. I give excerpts to my team to help them understand the way I approach issues and to help them better communicate with me, so we can all work together more efficiently.

Cross Training has Significant Value

An article entitled The 10-Minute Manager's Guide To Cross-Training Staff from Restaurants & Institutions (of all places) tackled the issue of cross-training staff in 2004. Highlighting different restaurants' efforts to create loyal, multi-skilled employees in which productivity is increased and labor costs are diminished, it showed that cross training ultimately helps to lay "a foundation for careers rather than dead-end jobs." From shadowing pros or the folks in marketing or mapping your own course in the organization, being open to experimentation is a way to let others help you. Don't rule out mentors from what you might thing are unrelated disciplines. Leave the door open and understand that a fresh perspective can bring many pleasant surprises.

It's Okay to Love a Blog

A mentor might be a blog. Yes, just like this one. Let others' stories help you to understand better strategies, new products or lessons learned within your domain du jour. I read Gerry McGovern's articles with wonder and awe. He helps me understand the ins and outs of web design and content management. Even if I think I know it all, (which I certainly don't), his perspective always sheds new light on issues I thought I've mastered.

It's Okay to Love Yourself

Alright, we're not going to get too Haight-Ashbury here, but come on, who's responsible at the end of the day? That's right. Take the time to mentor yourself as well. You probably espouse a great deal of wisdom to others in any given day. Sure, some of it might be unsolicited, but it's all the same. However, take time to listen to what you are saying and then follow it. Finally, professionally develop yourself: join a list-serve, a job-related volunteer group like DC Web Women or San Francisco Women on the Web, or start your own, join a social networking site. You'll be surprised how much feedback you can get by asking, "how do you solve this problem?" or "what are your ideas on…?" With all your fresh, new perspectives on how to tackle challenging situations within your career, you might just find that you're feeling stifled because you've simply outgrown your position. Good for you! Take the initiative to move ahead. (Let us help! Look for your next gig on our job board!). As you grow, you'll be able to guide others through the tricky situations you've survived.

About the Author

Marisa Peacock is a online media specialist and regular contributor based in the Washington D.C. area. As a manager of digital media, a writer and a researcher, she has broad experience with the development of strategic content and graphical design for both print and online media. Marisa holds a Masters in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University.