About 15 years into my career, a young woman from another department in the organization where we both worked asked me to lunch. To my complete - and ignorant - surprise, she asked me to be her mentor. At the time, I had no idea what she meant. (Fortunately for her, she either acquired a real mentor, or she did just fine on her own, becoming a vice president of the company.)
The concept of mentoring was completely foreign to me at that time. If I had considered it at all, I would have thought a mentor was someone higher up in the organization who would just kind of watch out for me. What that would look like, however, was completely nebulous. No wonder, then, that I never formed a formal mentorship relationship with anyone.
Recently, though, I have discovered the true joys of mentoring. Through a local chamber of commerce Young Professionals Program, I mentored a rising junior bank executive for a year. Coordinating our schedules turned out to a bit sticky, but we were able to make coffee dates and we met at my office from time to time.
We started out as strangers to each other: We had met at a "matching" event sponsored by the chamber that was a bit like speed dating. The potential apprentice then ranked their choices of mentors and the Young Professionals Program leaders made the matches.
As mentors, we were counseled to provide a safe space for our apprentices to explore their challenges, their concerns, their decisions and their futures. As a career-long marketer, I was personally ready to apply those same principles with anyone in any field who were ready to market themselves.
No matter how talented, how motivated or how dedicated we are, how we are perceived in our workplace has everything to do with our relationships, our opportunities and our abilities to get things done. In this way, I believed I helped her.
I was also able to share my own decisions - both good and not-so-good - and how they shaped me both professionally and personally. In this way, she helped me, too.
As I write this, I am contemplating my mentorship with a young writer. We met through a colleague from Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where I serve as an instructor in their Young Writers Program. She's quite gifted and ours isn't a tutoring relationship, but rather coaching and mentoring.
We're navigating the world of writing together. For example, we took advantage of recent great weather to explore writing nature poetry at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I am learning from her every time we get together, and we're just getting warmed up.
May is Mentorship Month ... please consider being a mentor. You can spend as much time and energy as you are able. Just take a moment at the start of your relationship to establish routines and commitment. Will you meet once a week or once a month? What are your apprentice's goals? How will you contact each other? Answer questions such as these at the beginning to save disappointment or confusion later.
Here are a few tips I've learned: Set expectations, foster a professional as well as personal relationship, share mistakes and celebrate milestones, and, most of all find the joy in helping others.
Andrea Doray is a writer who is looking for her own mentor. Any volunteers? Contact her at email@example.com.