Finding a mentor can feel like dating. There's pressure to find "the one," because then you'll live happily ever after, professionally.
But just as in dating, having that sense of urgency to pinpoint one person to help you navigate your career can sometimes do more harm than good. It's also a lot of added stress.
"That's a piece of business culture that we've been taught — that we have to find a mentor with a capital M," says Morra Aarons-Mele, entrepreneur, author and marketing expert who graduated from the Harvard University Kennedy School. "It can be really overwhelming, especially for introverts."
If you don't have a trusted adviser to give you valuable career advice, don't worry, says Aarons-Mele. She has built a robust network of successful professionals in public policy, business and journalism. And she's a self-described introvert.
Here's her top piece of advice: Instead of searching for one person to guide you through every step, look for something a little less serious, she says. Find someone in your sphere who's "safe."
Unlike the pressure or formality that often comes with labeling someone as your mentor, finding someone with whom you can be honest is just as helpful, Aarons-Mele says.
"It probably should be someone who is superior to you," she says, "who isn't competing with you."
This person could manage another team, be in another department or even be from HR, says Aarons-Mele, who describes her personal journey of finding success as an introvert in her book "Hiding in the Bathroom. "
And while they'd ideally be higher on the chain-of-command than you, they don't have to be your boss, she notes.
To find this "safe" person, consider whether you already have acquaintances above you at your company whom you could grab coffee with. If you don't have anyone in mind, attend an internal networking event, or make an effort to start meeting more people at the office.
Networking expert, writer and investor J. Kelly Hoey says you can network in just a few spare minutes. Try asking someone about their weekend while near the coffee machine or sending an email to reconnect with a contact you already have, she suggests.
When you speak with this person, however, make sure you are very careful about how you talk about others, especially your boss.
Boss-hating or speaking poorly of your coworkers can ruin your career, as people don't like to associate themselves with people who are overly negative or gossip. It could also get you in serious trouble with your manager.
"The good news," Aarons-Mele says, "is that in a lot of professional organizations now there is more of a culture of listening and training."
More managers, she says, are willing to listen and give advice than you might think.
For people who aren't extremely outgoing, finding this person may take "a little bit of time and sleuthing."
But, she says, it's probably much easier than you think.
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