‘Everyone is older than someone.’– Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
The current climate is making me think of ways that I can help in my own little corner of the world. Although imposter syndrome isn’t half as much a problem as it was before, sometimes you do feel a little helpless. “What can I do … how can I be of use ?”
One statement I remember from one of my mentors from a conversation last February was this : “When you climb up and achieve, don’t pull the ladder up behind you.” – That conversation never left me. It was a handful of words from a partner at a huge company, everyone in our circles knew and appreciated her work – she had gotten to the top , and now she was helping me, she was watching as I started climbing the ladder. I remember leaving that meeting feeling a sense of confidence; someone who had achieved so much saw potential and took time out for me.
And for most of my years post Uni (You know… all two of them) I’ve been on the receiving end of so much support, from my seniors at work , to random contacts from events, to twitter friends that call and discuss their lives with me. Its been amazing to be supported by other women, and I do feel supported – but very recently, I was posed with the notion of becoming an ‘official mentor’ professionally, to help someone figure out how to navigate early-career life.
This was a little surprising for me to be honest. I graduated postgrad last January, and I feel like I’m barely getting my feet wet into the world of work. I still doubt my decisions, I still feel like I could be doing more, I still don’t know what all my next steps are … and despite all of that I should be speaking to others ?
The thing is, as I followed this conversation as to why I might have something to bring to the table, I realised, that I do mentor – indirectly, and not realising it – from the Girls in Science twitter to emails, events (when events were still ‘a thing) and dm’s – I answer questions and follow up conversations about careers and life-decisions all the time. I just think the thought of the formalised monthly calls just sounded a little beyond me.
Because I feel like I still have so much to learn.
But then I thought about what I do now; my local Church teaches the Biblical principle of ‘Women Teaching Women’ (Titus 2) – growing in a sisterhood that allows cross-generational communication to aid one to navigate life in a God honouring way – I speak to 7 girls on a weekly basis specifically on this, we laugh and cry and learn together, and even though its more like a big-sister friendship than mentoring, I realised ‘ We are all older than someone’ even if you are 2 steps ahead of them , even when you don’t know all the answers… it doesn’t take much to listen. And that smoothly takes us to step no.1
- Listen to them. The best thing a mentor can ask is “How are you” – and not that quick superficial tone that just wants to get to the next point. As a mentor, you need to care enough to know the person a little deeper, ask about their lives, their families, their feelings, their mind.
- Tell them what you see. The amount of girls that have spoken to me, and I’m immediately struck with their bright hopeful eyes and their intellectual mind, their big smile, and passion-filled voice – girls need to hear how brilliant they are … if not that your trying to flatter them but if they’re attentive and come across well let them know. – this tells them that you are on their side. On their Team and that you believe in them. – that goes miles.
- Be strategic – even though we all need a good therapy session every once in a while, after you’ve heard from them. Put your game face on and start to ask about their goals, get them to tell you what they want in life in general, then hone it down to the things that are controllable, the things that you can actually help with, write out their goals with them and start talking about implementing a plan.
- Open doors – if they tell you about opportunities they would like, and you know someone who knows someone, give out information. Everyone appreciates a good connector.
- Give them your advice, but let them know that it’s just your opinion – sometimes you don’t understand the situation when you’re the one in it. Get them to break down their experiences and problems to you, and do your best to bring some logic and calm to the situation – and if you can’t, that’s fine- just listen some more… sometimes solutions aren’t needed in as much as listening-ears.
- Hone your emotional intelligence skills – knowing what to say and when to say it is an invaluable skill for life. Know when to pause, when to dig deep and when to step back.
- Be Vulnerable – I have learnt so so much about vulnerability this year, in official mentoring cases, you want to keep it professional , but don’t be afraid to let them know how you felt when you first started out – how scared you were – or still are.
- Be honest. – It’s the best policy – but don’t be harsh.
- Be consistent. – I love it when I get a message from one of my mentors just asking if I’m alright. Be someone they know they can pop up and speak to.
- Be positive. Smiles are always, everything.