The Circle of Mentoring

Who has been a mentor in your life, and who have you mentored? In this post, I hope to show you how the mentee-mentor relationship is a fluid one. Mentors and mentees help each other to become their best selves.

Consistency

Take Helen from Toronto, Ontario for example. She invested in the life of a 12-year-old camper in 1975, as a camp counselor. When I had questions surrounding my faith, she helped lead me to the Lord. And she has written personal handwritten letter every year since- for over 45 years now!

Helen has been one of the few constants in my life and embodies: Show up. And be kind. Every year our letters show up and we encourage each other. Regardless of how long someone is in our life, we can all pass on kindness.

My 21-year-old son just informed me that his work mentor, who taught him so much, had just died in motor vehicle accident. The best way to honor his memory, I told him, is to pass on knowledge to other people. We can ask others to mentor us, or we can embrace all we can from those willing to share. Not everyone has specific skills to coach, but we all have the life experience to mentor.

Compassion

The other consistent mentor in my life was my high school English teacher. She was a new teacher and a rather tough grader. But she was also a counselor, consultant and a CHEERLEADER. Everyone needs a cheerleader!

REELING from loneliness at the age of 14, when my folks moved for a job in Saudi Arabia, she was one of the adults who most clearly showed she cared. (My twin and I stayed behind in Montreal with guardians, as the Kingdom offered no high school for Westerners.)

She REMINDED me about gratitude: When feeling overwhelmed, she asked me to list 10 things I was grateful for and taught me about perspective. After coming up with only a few things, she encouraged me to think deeper. She also:

REACHED out to make sure I would not spend all night studying for her test one night, but urged me accept a date on a school night- something I would never have done. My date and I drove 1.5 hours to the ski slope. I’ll never forget the excitement of that magical night, tingling with cold and excitement- wondering if my friend Ron was putting his arm around me. Or was just resting it on back of the chairlift seat. I can still recall the lights twinkling at the base of the hill, and the burn of our frozen toes.

RALLIED around me when I was discouraged and overwhelmed, later visiting me in boarding school hours away. She treated me to lunch at a local restaurant, and listened to me recount my pre-calculus woes, as I pondered how I would pass the class. She believed in me and said “You can do anything you set your mind to.” After that conversation, I decided not to drop my math course after all. Little did I know, then, that I would become the top sales representative for a major mathematics textbook publisher.

Convenience

When my mom died unexpectedly from a stroke, she drove 4 hours round trip to attend her memorial, just to show her support. Compassion is more important than convenience.  I remembered that lesson about showing up, when I drove 240 miles to deliver groceries to my friend whose husband had just died very unexpectedly.

We can also influence others to have compassion for self- when we model that compassion to others. Show people that they are worthy of our time. And hopefully they will feel worthy of our attention.

Professor Kristen Neff of UT Austin, who has pioneered research on self-compassion, suggests this is more significant than self-esteem as it’s less situational: “Be that same supportive friend to yourself.” Or mentor, I might add.

Commitment

I first had a chance to mentor a young woman two years ago. My friend had met someone on a church missions trip, who had started a youth mentoring non-profit group in New Zealand.

She was so touched by the lives he impacted through Heart for and Youth, that she decided to partner with him and create a branch in the US. And she thought of me when seeking a mentor for her first client, a dreamer kid who walked from Central America to California by herself at the age of 11. 

Like me, this girl was forced to grow up fast when she entered the foster care system at age 15. While I had legal guardians and parents who loved me, I knew the pain of loneliness and the feeling of abandonment. And the dangers of burying myself in work, to cope and to feel a sense of self-worth. It took a year to finally converse with my mentee regularly, as she was so reluctant to open up initially.

It took a pandemic for her to re-examine her life and to invest in the relationship. Now we have zoom sessions about faith, shared goals and challenges. When I lost my mom, she reached out to me and said, “I’m here for you.” The mentoring had come full circle- I was there for her. Later, she was there for me.

I send her texts to show I’m thinking of her. And usually that is enough for her. Remember to be kind and to show up.

Lifelong Lessons of Mentoring

The mentors before me taught me to not give up on people. The showed me: the importance of commitment, the power of consistency, and the impact of care and compassion. Hopefully those who we invest in will remember the time we shared, and pass on that on to others.

Our efforts to impart knowledge and wisdom can inspire generations. Did you know that Martin Luther King was first known as Michael, but his father changed his later in life, when inspired by the Reformation preacher.

Sometimes our biggest mentors need not be people whom we have personally met. Martin Luther King wanted to study law or medicine when starting college at 15, but decided to become a preacher and an activist when he became inspired by one is HIS mentors, Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College.

Words and actions have the capacity to inspire for good or for harm. What pain in your life can be used to impact others through mentoring, writing or speaking? How might this change the course of someone else’s life?  Or of history?

Receiving my math award

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