She stood at the sink, frustrated, staring out the window at the new 1963 Dodge parked at the curb. She needed to get to the store, and they had just purchased the car so she could get around during the day.

The problem was her husband hadn’t had time yet to teach her how to handle the stick shift, so she remained stuck at home with the baby and a toddler playing on the floor behind her. Finally, throwing the car one more glance, she dried her hands on a dish towel and reached for the phone.

Her best friend answered on the second ring. “Sue, I want you to come over here and teach me how to drive this car. I need to get to the store before dinner.”

The rest, as they say, is family history.

My mom took matters into her own hands, and from what I hear, dinner was great. She went after what she needed that day, calling up help from a woman friend because the men were at work.

Growing up and hearing that story, I learned lessons about the power of determination, about asking for help, about going after what you want, and about women helping women.  Those lessons have served me well.

Throughout my life, I’ve been encouraged, pushed, supported, challenged, saved, corrected, taught and blessed by mentors. From middle school through college, from first job to fulfilling career, there have been teachers- formal and informal, paid and unpaid, men and women- who have taught me whatever I needed to take the next step, learn the next skill, try the next adventure.

Often there were lessons I didn’t even know I needed to learn.

Mentors fall into our lives by plan or by grace and teach us how to be who we want to be, or in this case, how to get where we want to go. A mentor may be someone older and wiser, or someone younger with more experience in particular areas.

Not so long ago, it was common practice for grandfathers to counsel grandsons on running the family farm, or for grandmothers and great aunts to teach young mothers about newborns. Formal apprenticeships were common for trades like blacksmithing, carpentry or printing.

In today’s world, successful companies know that mentoring programs improve their bottom line. One study of Fortune 500 firms determined that mentoring more than doubled their employee retention rate. In another survey of Fortune 500 CEOs published in Workforce magazine, seventy-five percent cited mentoring as one of the top three factors in their own career success.

Clearly, mentoring makes a difference, something men have known for years. But how important is mentoring to women? Extremely.

In fact, finding a variety of teachers is critical to women’s growth, both personally and professionally. Those who do so experience greater satisfaction throughout their lives. They’re more likely to be promoted and to earn higher salaries. Because women are uniquely attuned to the value of relationship, they often blossom under the careful attention of a good mentor.

So how do you find such a creature?

It’s easier than you think, and we’ll learn how in my next post. For now, though, simply begin to notice the little things you learn as you interact with others throughout the day.

Who’s around you now that you admire? Who offers you small bits of encouragement and instruction? Odds are, there’s a mentor in your midst already that you haven’t recognized.

Next time, I’ll tell you what to do when you find her.