The “You’re fired” mentor list: surrounding yourself with smart supporters


There is a particular chapter in Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In titled “Will you be my mentor?” It is this chapter that has inspired me to invite you into a conversation about mentorship.

Who are the first people you would call if you were fired?

I keep a post-it note on my desk with seven names on it. It was written about half a year ago, after I read an article encouraging folks to keep in touch with who they consider to be their real life mentors. The author asks you, his reader, to jot down the names of the first people you would call if you were fired. As a business owner I don’t happen to have a boss with that kind of power, but I sure as heck resonated with the idea of being in close touch with my support system.

Either way this request is a wake up call: make sure you maintain a good relationship with the people you would rely on in a professional crisis (and in a personal crisis, for that matter).

Schoening Digital is founded on informational interviews, otherwise known as networking

On July 11th, 2012, when I sat down at my in-laws dining room table and wrote my first email as Schoening Digital’s Founder, it was to a mentor of mine who had started his own business years earlier.

I asked for five names from him. I thought I was embarking on a series of informational interviews in order to learn from seasoned business owners about the roadblocks, unexpected challenges, and lessons learned as I was setting out to start my own business. It turns out that that’s called networking; I had never networked before (check out my learning on the subject in another post, 9 Networking Tips to Skyrocket Your Network).  My question-asking hasn’t slowed down in the least and of course, taking this approach when its come to challenges, unknown territory, and new opportunities has been hugely defining for Schoening Digital.

Reaching out to mentors during business challenges; learn from those who’ve done it before you

As of three days ago, I’ve now run into two more serious business challenges, the kind that feel importantly heavy on your chest. You can tell because you forget to eat breakfast and lunch the day they surface, and don’t even reach for the chocolate that’s waiting to be snacked on. I so badly wanted to manage them with extreme care, knowing that there would be a lot of learning from them. So what do I do? I pick up the phone and get short-notice coffees on the calendar with seasoned business owners, mentors, and peers who might have experienced something similar. I wrote more about this in a blog post called 5 Ways to Leave Work Fears at the Door.

There are these people whom I’ve met along the way that actually care about me, who lean into conversations about what they’d do differently, who send knowing smiles across tables and share advice like they have all of the time in the world. It’s incredible. No matter what how well Schoening Digital is doing, these people have made me rich.

It turns out that you never go into ‘battle’ in business, it’s about being on the same side

When you’re going into battle, you feel as though you have an army of like-minded, like-souled people behind you and instead of one person’s short life experience, you have decades and decades of business experience and perspective backing you up. And then you also have the wealth that comes with your army telling you that it’s not a war to fight after all. There’s no battle. It’s about aligning expectations from a view point of success for everyone involved. That’s called conversation.

This huge insight came in the form of a short-notice caramel latte conversation with a close friend and mentor of mine. After I finished explaining the challenge I was confronting, about which this short-notice counseling meeting was called, the first thing she said was that I needed to change my wording. I needed to approach this situation from the same side of the table as my client; we are never actually on opposite sides of the table from each other. If that concept hasn’t sunk in yet, let it; that can change the entire way that a business is run (and it has).

Go ahead, write down that list of mentors. And then treat them each to a meaningful Hello.

Get your You’re Fired mentor list written down. Call up those whom you haven’t spoken with in six months or longer. Email those whom you haven’t seen in a month. Care about them. Ask them questions. Make sure you follow-up with them with an update about the things you talked about. Set-up of coffee meetings and treat your valued teammates – because that’s what they are – to something with caramel in it. And then follow-up again.

Photo shared from our Xakary the Magician shoot. 

About the Author

Julie Schoening is Founder and Creative Director of Schoening Digital, a birth child of her many years creating kick-ass visuals for brands online. She likes hiking, reading, and hanging with her hubby. She loves connecting with great people. Email her at

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