My first ‘real’ mentor was my sister, Maura. The year was 2009, I was about 18 years (it feels like a lifetime ago), and I had just completed high school. I was awaiting results and oscillating between excitement about starting university and worrying whether I would get accepted at my first choice. I had a 7-month vacation ahead of me, and I had no idea what I was going to do. Over Christmas break in Kabale, Maura asked what my plans were, and I told her the truth – I didn’t know. She asked me whether I would like to work for her, and my answer was obvious. I said YES!
For 7 months, I worked alongside her when she was around or submitted reports about the business when she was away. It was my first glimpse of the working world, and I knew that I wanted to be the kind of professional she was – hardworking, brilliant, and fantastic to have on your team.
All these years later, it gives me tremendous joy to know that I am all these things (not a humble brag at all, lol).
Let’s get back to the topic before I lose my train of thought in the fog of my head getting bigger by the second.
Lesson One: A mentor doesn’t have to be so far removed from you – you can start where you are. It’s easy to overlook people around you because they are ‘simply’ your siblings or friends but don’t underestimate the genius that surrounds you. Just like you wear multiple hats, it is okay to allow the people closest to you to wear multiple hats as well. Your sibling can be your mentor, and you can even learn from people younger than you.
A certain amount of mutual interest is required for a mentorship relationship to thrive. The mutual interest varies for different people and may include interest in the individual’s success, skill set/experience, and willingness to teach/learn, among others. While you don’t have to know everything you hope to achieve from the mentorship, it is crucial that you have a good indication of which direction you would like to take.
Lesson Two: Figure out what you want (even in the broadest sense), establish mutual interest, and shoot your shot. There is a chance you might not get the yes, but in the event that you do, you have set yourself up for success. The mentor is more likely to help you if you can articulate what you are looking to achieve.
We have all probably heard statements like ‘mentorship doesn’t work’, ‘mentorship is just another buzzword of our generation’, and others along those lines. Heck, I would be lying if I told you that all my mentorship relationships were successful. There are several reasons why this might be the case, but the top two that come to mind are that you may not have been ready for mentorship/didn’t want a mentor, so it was never your choice or that you have not yet found a mentorship style that works for you.
Lesson Three: Honestly answer the question ‘do I want or need a mentor?’ If, after deliberate thinking and soul searching, your answer is yes, accept that there will probably be trial and error before you find the kind of mentorship style that works for you. Stay the course and find the right individual and style which works for you.
If you have made it this far, then it is safe to say that you are a firm believer in the power of mentorship. Lest I lose you to the ka small meeting you probably need to jump into (right before you bookmark this along with all the other bookmarks you might never actually get to), let me conclude with my final lesson.
Lesson Four: Pay it forward. If you have an opportunity to mentor someone, take it, and be sure to give it your best. There’s a lot that people can learn from you. Never forget what a privilege it is that you know enough for someone to want to learn from you. In some cases, you might even identify the mentee before they approach you, for example, a junior colleague or your friend’s sibling in a similar field. Be open to teaching, learning, and unlearning.
Wishing you a lovely May with lots of odds in your favor.