07 Nov The Gift of Mentorship
Within the past few years I’ve had the unique privilege of thanking someone who is among the most significant individuals in my life. It got me thinking about all the people whose influence has spanned decades and impacted the core of who I am, and who I will ever be. Though their task was to teach me a skill or how to perform better in my current or future profession, they took it a step further. They inspired me to believe in myself. They are my mentors.
I remember being called into my parents’ room in fifth grade. They gave me a choice: continue going to school with my friends or switch to a whole new school to participate in a program that would better fit my educational possibilities. I remember crying. It wasn’t because I was sad. I was nervous and excited. Even at that young age, I was well aware of the prospect I had to be a better me. What followed was a lifetime of opportunities. The sixth grade teacher was incredible. He was only twenty-five or so and played basketball with the boys at recess and in the classroom he was always searching for ways to stretch our minds and unleash our creativity. I remember he would hold periodic student-teacher sessions where he would tell each of us of our potential. It wasn’t his job, but his mission, to set me on a course of confidence that lasted throughout my schooling. Not bad for less than a year of mentoring.
As a young adult, I remember as an assistant manager I had several bosses who taught me the ropes. When I was paired up with one in particular, she showed me how my ideas could translate into policies and procedures. She valued my newbie opinion and inspired me to stretch and gain the confidence I would need well beyond our time together. In hindsight, I see how her believing in me despite how green I was as a leader made all the difference.
My first boss in the interpreting field wasn’t an interpreter, but a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He gave me my first big break, and every year around July I still remember to thank him. From the beginning he always made sure to address me with my full title and welcome my opinion and expertise into conversations. Once again, I had a person who saw a bit of potential and made the most of it. As the years went by, he continued to challenge me with interesting opportunities and projects, and to this day he has continued to show his support and confidence in what I can do. Looking back, I can think of many times when he could have thrown in the towel and stopped investing in me. I sure am thankful he didn’t.
A couple of very special ladies came into my life years later when I was working on my abilities as a professional translator. I did nothing to deserve their affection and time, and yet they gave both freely. They had achieved certain goals that I looked up to, and whenever I had a question or needed advice, they went above and beyond to not only provide answers but also show me how to get them myself the next time. Their professional guidance always came with just enough praises that I knew I was on the right track. They showed confidence in me despite being well-aware of my weaknesses.
Finally, I come to the man who inspired me to write about mentorship. I hadn’t seen him for about 15 years, and when we finally met up at a recent professional event, we were both overwhelmed with emotion. I took advantage of the unique opportunity to thank him for his role in my life. He was the instructor who first told me he thought I could pass a professional interpreting test. Over the years, I’ve run across written assignments where I find errors that he had praised as wonderful work. Could it be that this was another case of a gentle hand caring for the weak by inspiring strength beyond the realm of possibility? Even if it was, I bought it, hook, line, and sinker. His support and encouragement gave me the confidence to take that test, and many others. I have no doubt that he is among the most important mentors I’ve had.
There is another neat detail to share. At the same event where I caught up with this last mentor, there was a mentee of mine also in attendance. I taught college courses for many years and every so often I get a call from a former student who has achieved a goal we talked about at some time, but this was happenstance. It was a moment of sheer human joy to stand next to my mentee and my mentor to pose for a photo.
We are always influencing people around us. When we purposefully give of ourselves and strike a cord deep in people, causing long-lasting positive effects, we can call ourselves mentors. The opportunity to do our part to polish even one face of a diamond in the rough is not only fulfilling, but also what we professionals are made to do. We’re not creating a ‘mini-me’ but instead adding something to what the other person strives for and eventually achieves. Mentoring is meant to be freely and generously given, and graciously received. There’s no way to repay those mentors of mine other than paying their gift forward.
Like stacking rocks on a beach, it’s a lot easier to envision doing it yourself by learning from the artist who came before you.
Who are your mentors? Join in the discussion!
Check out these interesting articles on mentoring!