Back in December our marketing team at work reminded employees that January is National Mentoring Month, and they encouraged us to share our personal stories of mentors/mentoring to be shared with the general public. I often share how the power of mentorship made a huge difference in my life when I speak to companies or groups on behalf of my job, so this seemed relatively easy at first glance.
As I begin to mull over this topic (almost) two months ago, I realized I share my mentorship stories on general terms. It is quite a bit to digest when you only have 5 minutes to speak, so I shorten the message. Because, well, basically my life is a novel. (Which is why I am currently working on my manuscript.) I can’t narrow down one mentor who changed my life; I can’t single out one specific instance that altered the course direction. Why? Because I have had so many incredible individuals who breathed life and substance and wisdom into me over my short 24 (almost 25) years.
It’s been my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Ruth who fuelled my passion for creativity while simultaneously giving me my first non-A grade in a class. It was my church youth pastor who actually read my first blogs (I cringe at the thought) and encouraged me to keep writing. Mentorship was there in my English teacher who challenged me to go beyond the requirements and take charge on my analysis. Early on, much of my mentors focused on education and personal growth. Then things changed.
My parents died. One after the other, within four months, and my life literally turned upside down. I couch hopped. I moved in with a caustic grandfather. I planned two funerals and had to make life changing decisions. And I learned I was destitute- no money, no fall back plan, and definitely no one to advocate for me. I was 16 and a junior in high school, and while I had great friends at the time and a great support system, it’s uncomfortable for people to know what to say to comfort you (there are no words) or how to act (normal). So I plugged into my church, my friends, my relationships and kept trucking on.
Looking back, I can remember the love and encouragement and wisdom from my bible study leader (Thanks Mrs. Boone). I remember my church leaders being strong father figures who weren’t afraid to call me out and challenge me to live out the principles I was raised on. (One of my youth pastors even did my dad’s funeral, for which I am forever grateful . I couldn’t have spoken that day if I had wanted to. Thanks Loren for understanding that too.) I remember friends crossing an awkward line and talking to me about my dad (Thanks Elena) and my mom (Thanks Jordan, Treva, and Sharon. Those weren’t easy conversations.)
Within 6 months of moving in with my grandfather, he realized he wasn’t capable of “being a parent again” so to speak. In hindsight, I think he had his own grief to cope with, and he and my father never really did have the best relationship. It manifested as anger towards me because I craved so much to have an active person in my life and he couldn’t be that for me. (That reflection has taken 8 years to manifest. And yes, it still hurts, but I’ve let it mostly go.) So he told me I had two weeks to find another place to live.
I’m a problem solver, and I’ve always coped by planning. So I went into overdrive. I shared my predicament with a friend’s mother, who in hindsight shared quite a bit of love and mentorship with me as well. A week later I was tucked into a bed in a local family’s home (for at least the summer) and I never left. I learned that family is not defined by blood, and that sometimes the best mentorship and wisdom is given over brownies while sitting on the kitchen counter. Mentorship turned into love, which turned into family, which turned into forever. To this day I still spend every holiday, celebrate every birthday, and share every loss with my crazy loving and completely unrelated-by-blood family. (Thanks Lisa, Kevin, Ashley, Alex, and Arden. For everything.)
I found mentors in college through professors who saw a hunger for knowledge within me. And I had some tough love when an advisor simply told me to not take a class because I didn’t have the time to devote to the study (mentors aren’t always bright and cheery, and I am so thankful for that years later). I found wise women who wanted to invest time in developing my speaking skills and taught me that people are more than just a means of fundraising. And I learned to find myself. Not in others, but in my heart, in my faith, and in challenges.
I’ve had pageant mentors (sometimes called pageant directors) and mental management coaches (often called Heather, or friend). I’ve had veteran coworkers who shared their experiences while treating me as an equal, and I have had organizational leaders encourage me to share my story. I have been given lectures, guidance, wisdom, truth, encouragement, beauty, and perspective through every single one of these people.
Some were a figure in my life for months, some years, and some will remain forever. I can’t pick just one mentor to share, because our journey isn’t finished yet.
So I challenge you: think about mentorship differently.
A mentor is defined as “someone who is an experienced or trusted advisor.” It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sign up to spend one-on-one time with an at risk youth every month (though I highly recommend it). It doesn’t mean you need to take on a less experienced employee at the office and share your learnings with them (though I highly recommend that too). Share your experience and trust with someone. A friend. A kid. A coworker. An orphan. Anyone who is in need. Because, well, we all could use a mentor. Mentors change our perspectives, challenge our preconceptions, and ultimately lead us to growth in more areas they will ever know.
Thank you to everyone who has, at some point, been an experienced and trusted advisor. Thank you for challenging and believing in me, even when I didn’t (or perhaps overly did) believe in myself. Thank you for pulling me back to reality or teaching me to soar through the sky. Mostly, thank you for trying.
Because really, that is all you can really ask of someone.