Everyday Living, Relationships

The hard part about being a mentor

I’ve been blessed when it comes to the people that I consider mentors in my life – partly because of the number of people that I’ve looked up to and have been blessed by their knowledge and partly because I am still in contact with most of them.

Mentoring started with my sixth-grade teacher Mr. Lonning. He had been a principal at a nearby school that closed because of budget cuts in my school district. I will never forget the day in sixth grade when he announced to all of us that he was going to scrap his lesson plans for that day because he had something more important to teach us. The date was December 7th and that was one of the first times that my classmates and I learned about Pearl Harbor. I remember being fascinated with Mr. Lonning’s stories and I’m still impressed by the memory of him. I was never able to tell Mr. Lonning this, but after his death I was able to share some of my fond memories with his son who was a wrestling coach at my alma mater.

Like I said – after Mr. Lonning, I was blessed to find other equally talented people in my life who helped me with career choices, life decisions and who just became very good friends and examples for me to live by.

I don’t know that I’ve become anyone’s mentor, but I think I’ve come close with a person that I ended up hiring as an intern when I was working at my newspaper in Northfield.

I remember meeting Lisa for coffee at her college and being immediately struck by her intelligence and her warmth. And she was crazy about the idea of journalism. Plus she was willing to work for free. That intoxicating combination led me to recommend her hire to my bosses and we ended up working together for an incredible semester. If memory serves, we also had her on staff for a semester and were able to throw her a little pay. When she left, I bought her some notecards, some tea that I knew she’d like, etc., and was stunned a couple weeks later when I got a handwritten notecard of thanks. It’s a simple gesture, but it spoke volumes of Lisa. Not only was this young woman fantastically talented, she was a very genuinely nice person.

It’s been almost three years since I left journalism and every once in awhile I still get emails from Lisa. The most recent one was asking me if I thought this was a good environment and a good time to pursue a career in journalism. I later found out that she was asking this question more for her boyfriend than she was for herself, but it took me about a week to compose my reply to her. Because I wouldn’t be who I am without the seven years I spent as a reporter. But I also have a lot of friends who are working in an uncertain environment and get the occasional email asking me if I know of any job leads because a reporter/industry friend just got their pink slip.

I was able to give a bit more constructive advice than my knee jerk emotions about journalism, but I have to be honest – it’s rewarding to be asked your opinion (and God knows, I have a ton of opinions), but to have someone with such potential ask me such an important question? I was humbled, I was a little nervous and it made me appreciate my mentors just a little bit more.

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4 thoughts on “The hard part about being a mentor

  1. The hardest part of being a mentor is to recognize when the person you’re mentoring isn’t ready to listen to your advice. The best thing to do is to be patient, and if you feel it’s necessary, tell the person that: (1) you have given good advice to solve his/her problem, (2) the person appears to not be in the right frame of mind to act on your advice, and (3) that you’ll be there when he/she is ready to do so – THEN YOU LET IT GO. You can’t get upset when you encounter this resistance, and the worst thing you can do is berate someone into listening to you. They’ll end up tuning out ALL of your advice in the future.

  2. I’ve had the privilege of mentoring both inside and outside of work, and I have to say that it’s always been rewarding, especially if it’s kids. I know this is probably cliche but I usually learn as much or more than they do.

  3. Good point Paul – mentoring is a learning relationship on both sides.
    AND – I agree with Jay too (it had to happen sometime!). It’s hard to let people make mistakes. But sometimes it’s necessary.

  4. I think that the internet has gone a long way toward amplifying the power of mentoring. While yesterday if might have been an older coworker or merely a wise neighbor, blogging in particular has made mentors of so many, and to so many. The difference is that I can have a financial mentor, a relationship mentor, etc, now. And it can be a true dialogue, just like the old face-to-face model. Interesting times.

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