Overwhelmed By Advice? Find Yourself A Shadow Mentor

Have you ever stuffed your washing machine so full of clothes that it broke? You just wanted to wear your favourite top for a stroll in the park.

But now your garment is soaking wet, and half soaped, your machine is out of order, downstairs’s kitchen is flooded and all of this fuss for shoving in an extra pair of socks.

It’s not a tragedy, but now you’re in plan B mode and maybe you’ve have gone off the idea of going for a walk.

That’s how my inbox feels at the moment; jam-packed full of advice, but instead of the account shutting down when it becomes too full it’s my brain that goes into overwire mode.

It’s great to have such a choice of experts and inputs, but when you shove too many new tactics, routines, events, books to read, bloggers to follow, etc. you may be venturing into overload territory where the machine keeps on spinning, but nothing is getting any clearer.

Months can pass in this way. You’re ticking off a checklist for success but can you remember where you’re going? You started out trying to improve your writing, and now you’re following a six-step programme to becoming an overnight YouTube millionaire.

Stop the bus, please.

There are too many voices spinning around in your head, and you can’t think anymore. What to do? Curiosity is a golden ticket in life, and it would be a shame to stop using it because of a small dose of overload.

My suggestion and latest tactic is a more considered uptake of advice and information — a carefully selected shadow mentor, or two at the most.

A Shadow Mentor

What’s a shadow mentor? It is someone you can shadow nicely and quietly and discreetly. No pressure, no grades, no responsibility on their part — the learning is all on you, but the beauty of this is having one or two calm and coherent voices whose action and advice you can apply with effectiveness.

Whether for business or a creative endeavour or mindfulness or physical activity or an instrument. Whatever you’re looking to achieve in life, there is at least one shadow mentor candidate out there for you.

When you start working at a corporation, you often shadow the person you’ll be replacing. If they’re kind, they are more than willing to impart their learning on you. Sometimes they’re not, but that’s another blog.

Advantages of Having A Shadow Mentor

– It’s free, and you don’t have to feel bad because they are putting their content out there to grow their audience and you will probably buy one of their courses at some stage

– You have the time and space to action the advice of the mentor

– You have taken control of your learning by focusing on the advice that will help you the most

– You’re not wasting time trying to action every piece of information that comes your way

– You’re more focused and less in danger of giving up

– You can choose anyone in the world; you are in charge of your education

And on the other side of a carefully selected shadow mentor are,

The Disadvantages of Listening To Every Voice On The Circuit

– The opportunity cost of consuming every piece of content you can is the actual doing of what it is you are trying so hard to master

– The law of diminishing returns will set in if you’re stretching your attention span too thinly across multiple teaching sources

– You might get disheartened which will make each task even more difficult

– You could get brain indigestion and take to watching soap operas on the sofa instead — please don’t do that

You’ve probably got a ton of shadow mentors already — maybe the life cycle goes something like this.

You read an article you likeBy

Then subscribe to a newsletter

You follow up with a free course.

Then a paid course

You get halfway through the course and get bored or give up. Each time I subscribe to a new online course the introductory email tells me the incredibly high drop out rate of online learning.

And guess what still happens.

I drop out and become part of the high statistic. What about you?

Maybe you are just a quitter.

But maybe it’s about the timing, or the match or that you’re just not into the course materials. Perhaps the title of the course caught you at a low moment or a high moment?

You do that cycle on repeat with five other courses and all of a sudden you are putting energy into reading, consuming and actioning content that you don’t have time to analyse. Soon enough six months have passed and you’re wondering whether to pack it all in and go back to your day job.

If that is still an option.

You are no closer to the goal that you started with, even if you can remember what it is.

To spend time choosing a shadow mentor means you’re more likely to make the learning count.

See the role as a privilege. Who’s going to say otherwise?

Consider yourself privileged to be a student of such an influential being. Take it seriously and invest in the right person that you’re going to spend the next month shadowing.

Here are some considerations to make when selecting your shadow mentor.


How do you like to be spoken to? It may seem like a stupid question, but this changes over time. When I first started, I wanted someone to tell me HOW to do things and the smaller the detail and more precise the instruction the better for me.

This has changed now as I’ve figured out what I like to read/do and what I don’t.

Do you want someone to whisper gently into your ear, would you like a conversational tone or maybe you want someone to shout at you like one of those military fitness instructors that train people in the park.

Are you happy to be lectured or would you prefer to be presented with a theory that you then apply to your own situation?

It’s funny how many options will fall away when you consider this question.


What values are you interested in following? This is not a judgmental question, it’s practical if you’re going to choose one voice to listen to.

While I do want to increase my blogging income and occasionally succumb to the ‘how I made XX’, but I’m much more interested in learning strategy at the moment.

So, it makes sense to shadow someone who writes more about learning than income.

I love people who break down established thinking methods and try new approaches, so a focus on design thinking rather than tradition appeals more.

What values inspire you?

Teaching Methods

What kind of methods do your shadow mentors employ to share their knowledge? Do they tell you what to do? Do they illustrate their point with a story? Do they give you some theory and allow you to apply it yourself? Do they discuss aspects as a lecturer would?

What’s your preferred method?

I studied part-time for my degree, so lectures were limited, and the resources were terrific. There were textbooks and CDs to go through and used a 3-stage method of learning. Read, read with purpose, write.

And no matter how much I try and bypass any one of those learning stages, it doesn’t work so just being told what to do doesn’t work for me. I need to apply the knowledge in my way.

What about you? Are you a visual person, do you respond well to video workshops? Do you like listening to podcasts?

Pick the shadow mentor that best corresponds with your learning process rather than pouring alot of time and effort into


Are you looking in the right place for your advice? Are they an expert in their field and more importantly are they an expert in the domain you want to be in?

Sounds silly but haven’t you been dazzled by a blog headline before and rushed off to subscribe to a free course only to realise that the course is on gardening content or will-writing or something that doesn’t fit in with what you’re aiming for.

Now the emails are piling up in your inbox and gathering digital dust. You feel useless and guilty and like a quitter, again.

The Theme Tune

What theme tunes are they playing? What are they saying? What are they not saying? Do you have a genuine instinctive feeling that they are talking to you — directly to you?

This could be the most significant indicator that you’re following the right shadow mentor because when you share your belief and value system with someone else’s expertise, the advice is going to feel close to you.

You’ll feel a connection; even though it’s one way you feel as though they’ve been where you’re going and they will understand your journey.

What Stage Of The Journey Are They At?

Having a shadow mentor doesn’t cost money, but it does take up some of your resources; time, application and the biggest one is your brain space.

Also, where are they in their journey. There are a few things about choosing someone who isn’t at the top of their mountain. Firstly their advice is live and includes recent discoveries, instead them being at the top of their game and having to look back to remember the exact learning curves.

Secondly, things have changed so much in just six months that a tactic that someone used yesterday to get to the top of their game may not work now.

Think about choosing someone apart from Seth Godin or other top-name bloggers or experts. You could get a fresher perspective and one more aligned with your journey.


There’s a lot to be discovered in the tone of people in the digital ether.

They can sound angry or hopeful or inspiring. Maybe the tone is coming out in what they are saying, or how they are saying it.

They can sound like they’re stuck on a broken record.

Or quietly confident without shouting down their blog at you.

Their tone is indicative of where they’re at; frustrated, terrified, confident or hopeful. What appeals the most to you?


Our poor old misbegotten instinct has been getting a bad rap in the age of data and statistics. Sometimes someone just chimes with you. It could be a throwaway phrase; it could be a small piece of insight to their values that is tucked away in between actionable advice.

Don’t throw this away; it’s essential to consider it alongside other criteria.

Instinct is our best data processor, and in a moment of confusion or uncertainty, we give it up in favour of louder or more forceful voices. Whenever I throw mine away, I regret it.

Have you still got your list of 100?

I’ve got two now; one male and one female — different voices with different things to say but both resonate in multiple ways.

Now What?

So, am I turning off every other source of advice or information out there?

Of course not, but these two are my focus points for the next month. They produce the material that I’ll prioritise in my writing and business journey.

I’ll make sure the emails are read and not just filed away, and I’ll avoid signing up recklessly for more courses until I feel like I’ve learned what I need to learn from these mentors.

I’ll create my action plan to include the writing and implementing of advice from the shadow mentors.

And if it’s not working out then I’ll go quietly on my way and find another shadow mentor.

How To Thank Your Shadow Mentors

You probably don’t need to tell them that they’ve picked up the lucky post of being your shadow mentor. That’s quite a responsibility and it’s all on you.

But it’s always good to share or to shout out about helpful content that has been published in the free domain. That’s a good way to thank shadow mentors.

Another way to thank them is to invest in a paid course or a book if you haven’t already.

Maybe at the end of my shadow mentorship, I’ll write to them to let them know they’ve been an inspiration; I’ll sign up to a paid course or a book if I haven’t already.

Good luck; I hope you find your shadow mentors. Let the ideas of the right person shine a light into your world.

Thanks for reading. This blog was originally published on Medium. If you’re interested in reading more articles around the theme of self, check out this blog on Instinct In The Age Of Data.


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