Monday, July 28, 2014

Official Mentoring

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post about unofficial mentoring, my alma mater, Davidson College, started up an official mentoring program last year, and I was flattered to be asked to participate in the first year. I ended up with two mentees, due to there being more students than mentors. (I asked for the extra mentee, she wasn't foisted upon me.) And I have been very lucky with two bright, enthusiastic, and delightful young women, L. and M.

Unlike a lot of the other mentees, L. was a sophomore and M. was a junior. I was thrilled about this, as it meant we didn't have to jump right into job-hunting stuff, but instead could build our relationship more slowly and honestly, and also we could lay more groundwork. This last year we covered a gamut of topics ranging from how publishing works to sexism I've dealt with at work, to personal finance (L. opened her own credit card and joined Mint.com!), to what I would tell 22-year-old Carin. Each of them have had some issues with boys and with family, and we've worked through that stuff too. I do not believe that a mentoring relationship should only be about work, as I've seen colleague's personal lives derail their work lives more times than I can count, and have had my own personal problems bleed over into the workplace at times. How can you concentrate on work (including schoolwork) if your mother's just been diagnosed with cancer or your boyfriend has just dumped you? I believe a big reason that our young grads struggle so much with the transition from college to "the real world" is that we older adults forget how many transitions they really are dealing with. There's all that ugly real-life stuff from health issues to other people being jerk issues. There will be issues with friendships that don't work out, finances that don't add up, practical problems with apartments and cars, as well as the whole getting-a-job struggle. When we dump 22-year-olds into the real world, it's a very steep learning curve, no matter how prestigious their college was (in fact, the more prestigious, the worse. At a big state university a student is more likely to hold down a part-time job and live in an apartment instead of a dorm. And students at schools like Davidson are unused to failing. In fact, may never have failed at anything in their lives before. Luckily for me, I didn't have that problem!)

So we have also been discussing how and where they can take on more leadership roles. L. had a long debate about going on an abroad program this summer and also one in the fall semester, and how that will affect her resume later, with no job or internship this summer. I helped M. with prepping for her internship application and interview (nailed it!) and I hope she's enjoying it.

At the end of the summer when we were wrapping up the school year, I thought about the commitment I had made (I could have stopped being their mentor in the spring, like a lot of the people mentoring seniors, but I have decided to stick with them until they graduate.) And I was surprised to find how much I personally felt I had gotten out of these relationships. I realized how far I had come. I could see myself in them, and I can see myself now, and in fact I can see that they're a little bit impressed with me. And I need to give myself credit for all my own accomplishments. It's rare that we ever stand back and look at our careers and see where we've come and what we've done. I also got a renewed enthusiasm for my career and field. I don't love my job every day. I don't know anyone who does. But when I talk about why I got into it and what I do love about it for a few hours twice a month, it helps those positives stay at the forefront of my mind. And I enjoy giving advice! Particularly to people who actually will take it! I can't tell you how excited I was when L. showed me that credit card and told me how she'd gone to her bank over Thanksgiving break and sat down with them and applied. We of course discussed using credit smartly, and we discussed her credit score, her credit report, and what are good things (having a long history of credit) and bad things (not paying) that will affect it.

I feel like I have made a couple of dear friends, and I am so looking forward to seeing where they go in the next few years. I do have high expectations, as I know how much potential they have, but I will also be there to help when they stumble, as we all do. If you have an opportunity to be a mentor, I know it will take some time, but do it! I promise, you'll get much more out of it than you think.

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