The person you are mentoring can see firsthand how you’ve shaped your career and can learn from your experiences — both positive and negative. Plus, you have the opportunity to be the mentee — to learn a tremendous amount about the younger generation and, sometimes, about the technology they have grown up with but that you are still trying to master.
More important than that, however, is the feeling of wonder, excitement and joy you feel when you see the person you’ve been mentoring stand on their own two feet, spread their wings and finally jump out of the nest.
I had this experience just yesterday and I’m sharing this personal story because I hope it inspires you.
Almost a year ago, I met Becky Johns, a young professional who was just graduating from college. She started as an intern at Delta Dental of Michigan. She worked her tail off and impressed a lot of people. I like to think that, thanks to a little mentoring from me, she also learned better how to network and show her value to the company and to professionals around town and online. Her hard work and my perseverance through a jungle of red tape resulted in a full-time job being offered to Becky.
We make a good team at work because we have discovered that mentoring is a two-way street. She learned a lot from me. I don’t say that to sound conceited, I think it’s just a fact of life. I’m 20 years her senior and I’ve held a variety of jobs in journalism, media relations and public relations. I’ve been around the block more times than she has and I was happy to share my experiences with her.
At the same time, I’ve learned a lot from her. I’ve learned about her generation and what makes it tick, in ways that I don’t from the classroom-based interactions I have as an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University. I’ve learned to be a calmer person because mentoring Becky has helped me put things in perspective. I know that if I’m going to blow up over something, I have to justify it to her. So, I’ve often found that remaining calm and just working toward a solution is setting a better example for her.
And yesterday, in what I’m sure was a tough conversation for her to initiate, Becky told me she’s ready to leave the nest. She’s ready to strike out on her own and no longer be seen as “Ari’s intern.” She’s fighting to make a name for herself in a way that ensures the first question she gets when attending conferences isn’t, “Where’s Ari?” She was almost apologetic, telling me that she needed to get out from under my shadow.
Honestly, I was a little put off at first. I joked with her to “not forget about me” when she makes it to the big times. Deeper inside, though, I was disappointed that she felt like she didn’t need me as much as she used to. And I couldn’t help being a little jealous, watching her career and her networking starting to take off, knowing that she is already finding success at an age earlier than I did.
And then, I realized that this is exactly what mentoring is all about. It’s about teaching someone how to fly and then cheering when they jump out of the nest. It’s about knowing you’ve done your job as a mentor well enough that the person who looked up to you now feels confident enough to speak to you as an equal. And it’s about instilling in someone the passion to succeed and to share that success with someone in the future by becoming a mentor themselves.
For mentoring to be successful, it needs to be more than just a concept. It needs to be a living, breathing thing that ebbs and flows like the tide. It needs to follow a cycle of mentor, mentee, repeat.
So get out there and find a young person who needs a mentor. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn.
(Bird photo courtesy of novemberwolf’s Flickr stream.)
(Becky Johns photo courtesy of Becky Johns.)