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Mentors: Through the eyes of a mentee

by Neo Jo Anne | 29th July 2021

I’m a Communications graduate who has just started out in her career(despite my many job experiences in an attempt to find where I fit), blissfully exploring the world and its vast elements to be discovered. The endless journeys I could take!

Mentorship was a new concept but it’s starting to grow on me and after a few mentoring experiences of my own, here are some notes on what that relationship looks like to me.

Mentorship is about giving, not just getting

The basis of any long lasting relationship relies on individuals who prioritizes giving and here’s a checklist of ways I see how giving can be practiced.

1. Giving valuable feedback

Being able to provide feedback is one of the most vital interactions in a mentorship relationship.

Yes, being able to receive criticism is a must in order to grow. However, while it is part and parcel of feedback, I must say I appreciate constructive criticism far more. Based on my learning style, I am someone who synthesizes information and correction far better when it is not getting thrown in my face in a hard package. That is when I also understand that that may not be everyone’s style of teaching. Which is why it is important for me as a mentee to find someone whose teaching style matches my learning style.

2. Demonstrate interest

Have you ever spoken to someone who looked like they would have rather been anywhere else but talking to you? I know I have.

Being in a situation like that can be terribly demotivating which goes to show just how much the display of interest can mean to someone, even to individuals who don’t struggle with low self-esteem (it can be additionally critical to those who do).

But it is a two way street! No matter if you are a mentor or a mentee, just showing that you are interested in the conversation, in your body language or verbally can really make a world of difference.

I personally make it a point to maintain eye contact and show visible signs of attention so my mentor knows I am interested in what they have to say!

3. Ask and share personal life advice and experiences

Another underrated aspect of “giving” I have noted is sharing personal life advice and experiences.

It’s true, sharing personal experiences can be difficult especially when they potentially paint you in an embarrassing light or bring up complicated feelings. However, this is actually one of the most effective lessons you as a mentor can share

with your mentee.

Why? To err is human.

Too often, mentees place mentors on a pedestal (guilty!) which incurs feelings of inadequacy when in reality mistakes will always make themselves known. What better way for a mentee to learn than through relevant life lessons that they can apply for themselves in their own journey? Sometimes, understanding a mentor or mentee’s life from a personal point of view can grant one perspective into the problems presented on the surface, which to me, is invaluable.

4. Sharing connections and perspectives

“It’s not what you know but who you know”, a saying commonly used in regards to

networking and building connections and you know what, it’s absolutely true.

Mentees like myself who are starting out usually only have a tip of a finger in the networking pool as opposed to the branching connections mentors often build through their arduous journeys to get where they are.

I understand that these are often bridges constructed out of years of hard work and communication, but I am thankful for the referrals and connections my mentors have helped me build by laying the foundation.

Aside from the obvious personal introductions, these recommendations have provided me with a multitude of perspectives that help me see the many facets of a situation and the possibilities I could encounter.

Why scramble through the bushes when I could ask for directions?

Showing Appreciation

While working with other mentees and being a mentee myself, I notice something we don’t and can never really give enough of is appreciation.

1. Taking a mentor’s advice so they know their time was used wisely

While not guaranteed, I personally like knowing the time I set aside for a total stranger resulted in something worthwhile. So, being in a mentor’s shoes is not so different.

Based on my conversations with previous mentors, they often give altruistically, with the hope that the knowledge and experiences they have get passed on and used in a way that helps change, even one person’s, life. And whether they get to know of it, or not.

While advice like this might need to be altered to fit my situation, I definitely have a glittering gem to take away with me. For that, I don’t think I could ever thank my mentors enough for how much they’ve impacted me.

2. Showing thanks for taking the time

However, while the experiences and advice received are priceless, saying thank you

really doesn’t cost much.

To me, mentors take time out of their day to give me valuable advice when they could be spending it helping their community or doing a way more fun activity.

Added the cherry on top? Mentors are people with feelings too. We love being appreciated for the things we do and mentors are just the same, so I for one and glad to take a little time out to tell my mentors thank you for.

3. Expressing when you have learned something that has changed your perspective

Some mentors may not be big on thank yous and gifts, and may even emphasize that they are doing it altruistically.

All they really want to know is that whatever they have told you bears fruit in its own way in your life. To some mentors, the best gift is to know they’ve passed on the knowledge and wisdom they’ve been carrying and that it’s helping to raise another up.

So to mentors like this, I find it important to express more than a thank you.

I express, during the session or after, just how much their words have found home in my heart. Most importantly, I express what I am going to do or have done with the wisdom they have shared with me and how they’ve helped me see a different side of things.

4. Respecting differences and different life seasons

Not all mentors and mentees find perfect matches from the start.

I’ve run into a couple where their advice meets my inability to act, or when my needs are met with their inexperience in a certain area. But to me, it’s never a lost cause. Yes, it may not answer my immediate situation, but it is still knowledge I can hold for a different season in my life.

I could even pass it on myself to someone who could use it more. Point it, there is no wasted knowledge.

Being people, we are often at different crossroads and highways of our life and when we meet our mentors or vice versa, we may not sync perfectly. In times like this, I acknowledge my mentor is human and going through a different season in their life from mine. It may not be the best course of action right now, but it will be when I need it to be.

Preparation and Commitment

Aside from fuzzy feelings and chemistry, what makes a relationship work is preparation and commitment to seeing a situation through.

1. Setting goals and an agenda

In line with making the most of the time spent together, setting goals and laying down an agenda makes for the best use of it.

With goals and a set structure in line, it provides the conversation with direction and paints a clearer picture for both parties so each knows the steps to take to the goal ahead.

To me, this is a very visual representation of struggling to climb a mountain with the peak being my goal, I could take any path to get up but which way gets me there in one piece? So goals (whether set by me or my mentor) are like trail markers along the path that remind me of the best path I could take and keep me on track towards my mountain view.

2. Setting boundaries

Aside from laying down trail markers, something else to lay out is boundaries.

Like any good relationship, boundaries are in place to ensure safety and so each party knows their limits. Boundaries can look like anything from topics addressed to time management to even the way you dress. Some can be obvious and unspoken to others while some boundaries might need to be brought into the light.

Truly, anything that keeps the conversation civil and fruitful.

Both mentors and mentees must know where each other’s boundaries lie and it is important that it is communicated to prevent a relationship from souring.

3. Communicating Openly and Transparently

Speak of the devil! Communication.

Personally, I am an advocate for open communication as much as possible as many issues and complications that arise in any relationship, especially those that I have personally encountered, often stem from miscommunication or a lack of communication.

The result? Hurt feelings, broken spirits and burned bridges. Maybe not all three but in the worst case scenario, it is a possibility.

It’s not always easy to bring an issue to the front to be addressed especially when there are hidden expectations, miscommunicated boundaries etc etc, and I get that. But being able to communicate effectively is part of growing up and maintaining a healthy relationship.

So if I find myself in a miscomm mess, I tell myself, “Time to strap on your big girl shoes and be the one to bring this issue into the light.”. Most times a person won’t even know it until you bring it to their attention and if they are a big enough of a person, they can take your thoughts and opinions.

4. Following Up

At the end of it, no one likes to be left hanging. Not in high fives, contract deals or

mentoring relationships.

While I don’t update my mentors on every personal achievement or birth in the family, I find that checking in on my mentor once in a while to let them know I appreciated the time they took to help me and how I’m making use of that time can be very rewarding.

Aside from it helping to strengthen the foundation of our relationship, there is a chance they could have insight for a situation or a current season in life. An impromptu mentorship session, if you will. Sometimes, you can even catch a glimpse of the life you might have for yourself through their stories.

It keeps me thinking about the endless possibilities in life and how there’s so much to look forward to.

In a closing word and theoretical nutshell, mentorship is very altruistic but despite that, mentors are people who just want to feel appreciated for their time and efforts. From skills to chemistry, it takes a lot to ensure a relationship is fulfilling and it requires the work of all parties to ensure a mentorship relationship remains genuine.

Personally, while some relationships are more professional than others, it is important that mentors have a good experience mentoring mentees like myself as much as it is for mentees to have a good experience with a mentor like you.

So, as a mentee, these are my observations and takeaways from the relationships I have built for myself with the mentors I have spoken to.

From a mentor’s perspective, what do you think? Does this apply to your mentorship relationship?

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