All posts tagged mentorship

  • Announcing my appointment as national music writer at The Australian, from January 2018

    I have been appointed as national music writer at The Australian, as announced in the newspaper on Saturday 25 November 2017:

    Andrew McMillen announced as The Australian's national music writer, starting January 2018

    Before I start my next chapter at The Australian in January 2018, I wrote a Medium post to summarise my eight years in freelance journalism. Excerpt below.

    Never Rattled, Never Frantic

    Staying motivated during eight years in freelance journalism

    'Never Rattled, Never Frantic: Staying motivated during eight years in freelance journalism' by Andrew McMillen, December 2017

    Underneath my computer monitor are three handwritten post-it notes that have been stuck in place for several years. They each contain a few words that mean a lot to me.

    From left to right, they read as follows:

    1. “Alive time or dead time?”

    2. “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practised every day, while failure is simply a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”

    3. “Never rattled. Never frantic. Always hustling and acting with creativity. Never anything but deliberate.”

    Since I began working as a freelance journalist in 2009, aged 21, I have worked from eight locations: two bedrooms, two home offices, three living rooms, and one co-working space.

    At each of these locations, I took to writing or printing quotes that I found motivational or inspirational. Most of them I have either absorbed by osmosis or outright forgotten, but there’s one I found around 2011 that retains a special resonance. I printed it in a large font, and stuck it to my wall:

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is practically a cliche. Education will not: the world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.”

    That long quote was torn down and tossed during a move, but the message was internalised. If I had to narrow my success down to a single attribute, it’s persistence. I could have quit on plenty of occasions, after any one of a number of setbacks. But I didn’t.

    In these motivational quotes, you may be sensing some themes.

    I would be lying if I told you that the act of writing and affixing these quotes helped me on a daily, or even a weekly basis. I didn’t repeat them out loud, like affirmations. Most of the time, they were as easy to ignore as wallpaper.

    But often enough in recent years, during down moments, or in times of stress or upheaval, I’d shift my gaze from the words–or the bright, blank page–on the computer monitor, and find that these few handwritten notes would help to centre my thoughts.

    Let me tell you why.

    To read the full story of how I kept myself motivated during eight years in freelance journalism, including significant help from my mentors Nick Crocker and Richard Guilliatt, visit Medium.

    And keep an eye on The Australian from January 2018 to see where I take the newspaper’s music coverage in my new role. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

  • Voyeur story: ‘Helping Hand: Modern mentorships’, February 2013

    A story for Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine, Voyeur. Click the below image to view a PDF version, or read the article text underneath.

    Helping Hand

    To be the best, it’s said, it pays to learn from the best. Finding the right mentor is the first step to realising your full career potential.

    Voyeur magazine story: 'Helping Hand: Modern mentorships' by Andrew McMillen, February 2013There’s a lot to be said for one-on-one mentoring relationships, as great things can grow from even the simplest alliances. Sometimes, this is literally the case: Alexander The Great received private tuition from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who taught his 13 year-old student about practical matters such as medicine, logic, and art, but also concepts such as self-control, honour and discipline. Clearly, Aristotle’s pupil benefited greatly from this relationship: by the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires in ancient history. Though that distinct master-apprentice relationship may not apply in all business scenarios, the broader concept of mentoring is certainly alive and well in Australia in 2013.

    “Great mentors push you to the edges,” says Wendy McCarthy AO. “They make you find that you could do things you’d never dreamt of. Great mentors do that for you; that’s the magic of mentoring.” McCarthy, who founded McCarthy Mentoring in Sydney in 1998, is also an experienced company director, and currently chairs Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, Circus Oz, McGrath Estate Agents and Pacific Friends of the Global Fund. McCarthy’s daughter, Sophie, came on board at McCarthy Mentoring in 2007 as general manager, and the pair now arranges mentoring programs with senior executives, corporations, emerging leaders and individuals located in Australia, the UK, China and New Zealand.

    McCarthy‘s experiences with the power of mentoring relationships began in her first career, before entering the business world. “I was the beneficiary of organic mentoring, certainly, even as a very young teacher at a girls’ school. There were older women in the staff room who took it upon themselves to help me find my way around – people whose wisdom I wanted to listen to, who were always there for support and advice.” This is an example of what she deems ‘organic mentoring’, which tends to grow in the workplace, beginning with a tap on the shoulder. “Someone senior sees someone junior, and thinks, ‘I’ll see what I can do for that person,’” Wendy explains. “It’s always a generous thing.”

    The alternative is ‘formal mentoring’. “It’s quite different: it’s more structured, and it reaches a much wider group of people, because it’s not just self-selecting,” Wendy says. In such situations, “a CEO might look at how to develop high-potential people and how to have a diverse, inclusive culture,” she says. “It makes you look at people in a different way. It’s a reward program; it’s not just somebody tapping you on the shoulder. There’s a place for that, but nothing beats the formal discipline of meeting with someone for 20 hours a year, or 2 hours a month, to talk about and clarify their plans and what they’d like to be; and to be validated, in many ways.”

    According to David Gonski, businessman and philanthropist, striking up a mentoring relationship is a very professional thing to do on the part of the mentor. As for the mentee, Gonski believes that it’s an “incredibly courageous and correct thing to do, because you’re investing time in thinking about yourself – which, often, one doesn’t do.” The simple fact that a mentee must open up completely, warts and all, before the earnt wisdom and experience of a senior figure is a significant gesture. “And of course you don’t know what the mentor will say to you. Sometimes it can be quite confronting,” he admits. “It takes a lot of guts to work under someone in your own profession.”

    Gonski is a fine position to ruminate on his experiences on both sides of the mentorship coin. Although he currently chairs the boards of Investec, the Australian Stock Exchange and Coca-Cola Amatil, among others, he first became aware of the virtues of being mentored around the age of 22, when he began training at the law firm Freehills. Gonski calls his master solicitor and first mentor, the late Justice Kim Santow a saint. He taught Gonski not only how to be a good solicitor, but how to be a good person. Santow was enthusiastic about displaying a generosity of spirit in the community as a whole; by sitting in his office, Gonski learned “by osmosis” how Santow ran his life, his practice, as well as the way he looked at the world.

    Ever since that first, fortuitous mentorship, Gonski has felt indebted to Santow, and has sought to give back what he got from the experience by mentoring others as often as possible. “If you can give somebody assistance, and see them succeed, it is fantastic. It is almost as good as seeing a child succeeding,” he says. Gonski says that many of his mentees are “much, much better than me, and it is absolutely wonderful to see them – as they say in the movies – ‘going for gold’.”

    One of Gonski’s mentees is Ilana Atlas, a former group executive at Westpac. The pair was introduced through a mentoring program overseen by the Australian Institute of Company Directors in 2010. Although the program stipulated that the two were to have hour-long meetings every second month, Atlas says she was delighted to find Gonski was readily available outside of these if she wanted to talk through any issues. “For someone who has his obligations, I was frankly amazed that he was always accessible to me,” she says.

    When queried on this, Gonski smiles and says he has a theory whereby, if someone asks him go to the ballet, he’s “extremely busy. But if you want me to go to a play, I’m available.” He recalls that, as a younger man, he was extraordinarily busy; at the time, mentorship was an extra to a very full-time load. Today, however, he views mentorship as part of his load, rather than an extra.

    To get the most out of such an arrangement, Atlas, who serves as a non-executive director on Coca-Cola Amatil’s board,  believes that the two most important ingredients are respect and trust. For the relationship to be successful, there needs to be mutual respect. “There also needs to be clarity about what you want to achieve, and clear rules so that each party understands what to expect from the relationship.”

    McCarthy believes that internally operated mentoring programs have a low success rate. “Internal mentoring programs often fall apart,” she says, “even if they’re formally constructed, because the two people walk past each other in the workplace and make apologies; ‘Oh, I’m sorry we didn’t make our meeting last month. We must catch up.’ Quite often, it loses its intensity. My experience is that internal mentoring programs tend to be more effective when they’re organic; if they’re short, sharp and crisp, and across portfolios.”

    Career consultant Katie Roberts advises her clients that, when seeking a mentor within their company, it’s important to look beyond their immediate managers. “It’s unusual for someone to have their boss, or their manager, as their mentor,” Roberts says. “I’d recommend that they go for someone at a higher level, who can be a little bit more objective in the advice they give; someone who is not directly impacted by the decisions they make.”

    Roberts has operated her career consultancy since 2002, and has provided services for more than 10,000 individuals and organisations. “Mentorships work best in competitive industries, where there’s a lot of people vying for the same role. For people who are not given a clearly defined career development program within their company, mentoring relationships can help give them some solid steps that will help them move forward in their company and their industry,” she says. “As the job market becomes more competitive, it’s more and more important for people to look for mentors to help them out.”

    David Gonski’s top tips for a good mentoring relationship

    1. Choose wisely

    “The mentor and mentee must be compatible. The best situation is where the mentee is keen to work at getting the guidance – in other words, they make sure to make another appointment, and make sure that they get the best out of the time they’ve got.”

    2. Meet before mentoring

    “In all the mentorship situations I’ve been involved in, I’ve always sought to meet the potential mentee first, before committing to do it. I’ve made sure that the mentee is somebody I believe I can work with, for their benefit.”

    3. Mutual enthusiasm

    “As a mentor, it’s important to be both listening and remembering. They have to work at it, too, rather than just taking it as a comfortable hour to listen to the mentee’s story.”

  • Interviewed by Bianca Valentino about freelance journalism, October 2011

    Brisbane-based music journalist and zine maker Bianca Valentino has posted a long interview with me on her blog, Conversations With Bianca.  Here we speak about freelance journalism, interviewing, and goal-setting. Excerpt below.

    Interview: Andrew McMillen on Freelance Journalism In Australia, Writing & Interviewing

    To me Australian journalist Andrew McMillen is without a doubt a success. His work has been published in/for Rolling Stone Australia, The Weekend Australian, QWeekend, Mess + Noise, The Vine, Triple J Mag, The Courier-Mail, Australian Penthouse, Gamespot, and Junior. Andrew has managed to make freelance journalism in Australia pay the bills, not an easy task! Here Andrew and I discuss interviewing, challenges facing freelance journalists in Australia, his career goals and aspirations as well an insight into how he’s made writing a full-time gig. I give you a chat with two writers that deeply care about their craft…

    I get a little nervous before my interviews, just a little. Good nerves though I think.
    ANDREW MCMILLEN: Ha, you know Neil Strauss told me the same thing which I think is fascinating because he’s pretty much at the top of his game yet he still feels that way. He told me it is because of the expectations that he puts on himself to do the best interview that that person has ever done. Obviously if you are talking to some of the most famous people in the world then that is a pretty tough ask most of the time.

    Do you get that way yourself?
    AM: Yeah, in the moments leading up to an interview. On the phone it’s usually worse because of that anticipation – you’re walking around in the morning or whenever it is and you know it’s coming up ’cause it’s in your schedule and you know you’ll be fine once you start doing it but it’s just the planning and waiting that increases my anticipation for it. Once you’re actually in the moment I find that you’re fine.

    There have been moments in my interviewing career where I have had almost a constant anxiety attack throughout the whole interview and then because I wasn’t in the moment when I got off the phone I was like, damn! I wish I hadn’t been so worked up I didn’t see the opportunity to ask an awesome question.
    AM: Do you think that came down to a lack of preparation on your part?

    No – I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety at the time – I do more research than anyone else that I know for my interviews and with a lot of people I interview I have long-standing relationships and friendships I’ve built up with them over our careers, sometimes a decade or more. At times when I’ve done interviews I get an almost out of body experience or it’s almost a trance like state. I can’t quite explain it. I’ve had some amazing experiences and connections interviewing. I really, really care about what I do.
    AM: Yeah, wow! For me a big part of it for me is being present in the moment. You’ve got your list of questions in front of you that you want to get through but you should be willing to go with what they want to say and change in direction if need be. I’ve done interviews where I have lots of stuff prepared but then I only get to ask three or four questions and the rest of it is made up on the spot because they go off on some tangent which interests me and then I push them on that and go down an entirely different path. Some of those interviews have been some of the most enjoyable interviews I think, the ones which don’t go how you planned at all. I think that comes down to being versatile and being able to change it up on the spot.

    I’ve had some interviews where I’ve had a list of 50 questions and pretty much not even asked one of them. I also have notes on hand as well as questions. I did an interview with Dr Know from the Bad Brains – I’d loved that band for so long – once and when I started talking to him I felt it kind of fell apart. It was a really interesting interview for me where I learnt a lot from.
    AM: It turned out good in the end though didn’t it?

    Yeah in the end it did but at the time when I got off the phone to him I burst into tears – it’s the first and only interview that’s ever happened with. I thought I’d really failed. It meant so much to me because they were one of the first overtly spiritual hardcore punk bands and those two things mean the world to me. Reading the interview back though I realised it was awesome!
    AM: I love that reflection of how you might not realise it in the moment but then you type it up afterwards and awesome stuff comes out, it speaks a lot about the person, it speaks a lot about your talent to get that kind of thing out of them. I like when people say ‘I’ve never told anyone else before but…’ and then they tell you.

    That makes your heart stop a little and you’re like ‘hell yeah!’
    AM: [laughs].

    I wanted to clarify, is writing your sole work that you do?
    AM: Yeah I’ve done it full-time since June 2009. Up until October 2010 I was doing a bunch of copywriting and web project management, client management stuff for a small business called Native Digital. I was doing that as well as journalism so I wasn’t fully concentrating on journalism. Since October last year my full energy has gone into pitching, researching, interviewing and writing – it was a real shift in my mindset because it wasn’t just me plugging away trying to get my name out someone else [Nick Crocker] was investing time, energy and to a certain extent their reputation in introducing me to other people. We’d have weekly updates and they’d really just push me with each passing day to make sure that I was getting better—more connecting, pitching harder and pushing harder. That was the real shift for me in 2009.

    Since the start of last year Nick and I started this pitching spreadsheet where every time I pitched any kind of article to anyone – it could be an album review or a feature story – I’d track it in a Google Docs spread sheet so we could both see what was going on and what the response was and what stories were worth to me in a money sense. That was a business management strategy that Nick employed to get me to be more accountable for my actions so that I could see on a daily basis what I have on, what I’ve earned and I can see how it’s changed between now and six months ago. If I look back from now to Feb 2010 the changes are just ridiculous. I was totally green back then in terms of the stories I was pitching and the relationship I had with editors. Now it’s at a much more advanced level because I have those systems in place and I’m accountable and keep pushing harder. That relationship with Nick has been a massive part of why I am where I am.

    I’ve had a few conversations with Nick where he has encouraged me. I remember our first chat he asked me why I hadn’t started a blog yet. I told him I was waiting for this or for that and he told me there will never be a perfect time and to just start doing it.
    AM: He is incredible in that way. He’s started several businesses, he has that entrepreneurial spirit in him obviously but he even applies all that stuff to non-business things. He had this blog called Way Cool Jnr for a couple of years that he used to push his ideas about the music industry just for the hell of it. He wasn’t getting paid for it, it was for free. It became one of the most popular music blogs in Australia for some time. I took over editing it last year and I did it for a while but I stopped that recently because I can’t give it the time it needs which is a shame. That brand, that blog called Way Cool Jnr had a good name for itself and it just shows you can start a blog and it can have an impact even if it’s not for a business purpose. I have my own blog which I’ve had for a couple of years and it was cool to have that inbuilt audience from Way Cool Jnr.

    For the full interview, visit Bianca’s blog. You can find her on Twitter at @BiancaValentino, too. Thanks for the interview, Bianca.