Originally published on Her Agenda
I have always wanted a little sister, someone I could blindly love, trust, and support, because there are so many women who have been that older sister for me. My prayers were finally answered my senior year in college when I joined a mentoring program for women of color.
At the welcome dinner, where the mentees and mentors would meet for the first time, it was love at first sight. This vivacious young lady with a huge smile captured my attention immediately, and when she told me she wanted to major in communications I was sold. She’s it! What would bring an “urban” Latina from the South Bronx and an African southern belle from Dallas together, the world may never know. What I do know is, she taught me more than I think I will ever be able to teach her, but I am grateful to still have her in my life.
Later that year, I had the honor of winning the mentor of the year award. It was an out of body experience to have a relationship that I valued so much, be recognized with such a high honor. I guess that makes me a tad bit qualified to talk about this right? Mentorship means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in my experience the best mentorship relationships are built out of love and genuine interest in the success of the other person. Here’s what being I learned being a mentor.
Common sense isn’t so common.
Don’t feel as though you aren’t qualified to give advice because of the restrictions that have been put on us throughout college and our young adult life. The whole idea of paying our dues and starting from the bottom doesn’t apply in mentorship, because you are more than capable of helping others due to your unique set of experiences, accomplishments and skills. Anyone can be a blessing to someone else. Share those things that may feel like common sense to you. Whether they are a reminder about spell checking, offering to look over every single cover letter or using your dating mistakes as examples of what not to do, those words and actions mean more than any scholarly advice from a professional coach.
You’re a shortcut.
I finally learned to play the game my junior year at Syracuse, and by play the game I mean survive with limited resources. I met the Chancellor, built relationships with everybody in financial aid, and figured out the opportunities on campus that made had the highest return on investment. Instead of letting my mentee figure that out on her own, I gave her a list during her freshmen year of the things and people she needed to know to thrive at Syracuse, and my God did she hit the ground running. She’s traveled the world, secured amazing internships and really took Syracuse by storm. I might even go as far as to say that she worked the system better than I did, and I’m glad I could make life better for her. Being a mentor is about helping your mentee get from point A to point B in half of the time it took you.
You have a responsibility.
You should be invested in your mentee’s success, because every time they succeed, you do too. Although that might not be obvious right away. As your mentee grows her network, builds her brand and rocks her career, she won’t forget about you and the sharing of resources will become mutual. She forces me to be better, because I don’t want to disappoint her. That pressure to be great for her and the other women who consider me a role model holds me accountable each and every day. You have a responsibility to be more to others than you ever thought you could be for yourself.
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Relationships are gardens. You reap what you sow. If you plant that seed with an ounce of optimism and love, you will be surprised what can come from it. Soon your mentor/mentee relationship will blossom into a supportive friendship (if you both are genuinely invested) and you will find yourself asking for the advice you once gave. Because let’s be realistic, we all don’t have it together all of the time.
P.S. I love you Maliz!