Mentoring brings us together – across generation, class, and often race – in a manner that forces us to acknowledge our interdependence, to appreciate, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, that ‘we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.’ In this way, mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it. — Marc Freeman, Mentoring Advocate
The effects of mentorship are subtle and very often slow to manifest. Each quiet inner-shift or positive connection that comes from an experience with a mentor will eventually have an essential impact on a person’s life. This is as true for adults as it is for children and youth.
As a Case Manager with the Buddy Program, I act as a partner with families and Big Buddies to support children; I am also an advocate for the children in our programs. My daily efforts help each person involved in a child’s mentoring experience navigate the nuances and subtleties that exist in any relationship. Our collective energy bonds to form a foundation of support for children and aides in the evolution of children as they become self-assured, strong, and well-adjusted adults who will ultimately play a large part in society.
I witness Big Buddies basking in the happy glow of the children who they have supported as mentors and by whom they have been profoundly affected. I also work with Big Buddies when they struggle with all of the unpredictable elements that affect relationships – I coach them as they monitor their responses to a child or teenager in their best efforts to do right by them. As I support them and work as a partner in this undertaking, I have arrived at the conclusion that while children are our focus, and should always remain so, the end of childhood should not be the end of mentorship.
Therefore, let this blog serve as a challenge to any adult, particularly any Big Buddies, to begin the search for a mentor if you don’t already have one!
Desires and Direction
Begin with an examination of what you desire from life and the direction in which you hope to be heading – you can focus your search on a mentor for your career or if you do not have an orthodox career – such as parenthood or philanthropy or perhaps if you are retired – focus your search on a mentor to help you find direction for what you do with your time. Parenthood can be overwhelming and retirement does not always come easily to people who have been focused upon a career for the majority of their adult lives. If you are not able to identify those two things – your desires and direction – than this is a great exercise for you!
Once you are able to at least visualize – abstractly or concretely – your desires and where you hope to be heading with your life, start to look at the people in your community who you would like to emulate or who you simply believe have had experiences that would help inform the desires and direction that you have for yourself. You do not have to know them well; you do, however, want to have an idea of their personality and know their biography. Compatible personalities, interests, and schedules are crucial factors in making a mentoring relationship that lasts. Compatible personalities are not necessarily identical personalities: keep in mind that if you have a ‘Type-A’ personality, for example, you should seek out a different personality type in a mentor. The maxim ‘opposites attract’ is as true in sociology as it is in physics.
Making the Ask
It can be a risky thing to be vulnerable to the possibility of rejection or at the very least, change. I have observed that most adults, as they travel through life, become more and more risk-averse. Asking someone to be your mentor is an opportunity to take a risk that has the promise if a priceless reward and which also offers an opportunity to tap into your residual youth. If you are a Big Buddy, this is an opportunity to empathize with the experience that your Little Buddy had when he or she was paired with you – even if a young child is not able to recognize something as specific as the fear of rejection, Little Buddies are almost universally aware, if only vaguely, that their hearts reside in their Big Buddies’ hands. More than likely, if you have chosen thoughtfully and well, the person that you ask to be your mentor will say yes as a way of giving back to the mentorship that he or she has received. Arguably, each person who feels fulfillment in his or her life has been guided and supported by a mentor. We are a social species and we depend upon connections with other people in order to thrive. Mentorship is a rich well from which those connections spring.