Why Mentors Matter (and not just at work!)

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Optimum Living Daily, on my way home from work today. The episodes from January 6th and 7th focused on mentorship. The host of the podcast narrated from the blogs of Steve Pavlina and Chris Reining. The two men approach mentorship from slightly different angles, but they both agree:

Get a mentor. Maybe more than one. 

Pavlina and Reining argue that mentorship is essential to moving forward in your career. Mentors can help you become more efficient, can provide you with new ideas, can forge connections with other people in your field, and more.

I agree.

Let me share with you my career journey (so far).

I began teaching at age 23, in an independent co-educational school in the mid-Atlantic. I had never taught before. I had never been a student teacher. I had some experience with teaching a study skills program, but other than that, I had never been in front of a class. Enter my first mentor, S., who had been working at the school for over three years. As part of a deliberate mentoring program established by the school, we had lunch once a month and checked in about once a week. S. was absolutely instrumental in my success throughout my first year (providing me with resources, teaching me about school culture and classroom management, and more). She was never condescending, and never made me feel like I was bothering her. I did my part, making lists of questions before each meeting to ensure the meetings were both productive and constructive. When I could help her out (subbing, etc.), I would. We left that school at the same time, and she and I are still very close friends.

I went back to school for occupational therapy, and was provided with mentors/supervisors throughout my clinical experience (known as fieldwork). I had one mentor who was very helpful, and stepped in after my previous supervisor had been reassigned to another hospital. Other than this experience, though, I did not have many mentors in occupational therapy. This is partially my fault. One, I chose settings that were less than conducive to mentorship. My first job was in home care, and although my supervisors were wonderful, I had to call them to ask for help and advice. Frankly, in a home care setting, you can't just step out and call your supervisor. Also, in the atmosphere of time=billable units, it was very challenging to find the time that both of us were available to talk. My next position was in an outpatient clinic, which I thought would be more suitable for mentorship. It wasn't. I should have known earlier on that this clinic was not interested in mentorship. The turnover rate was 100% in the year and a half that I was there, and in my exit interview, I had an eye-opening conversation with the president of the company. She told me, "I don't understand why all of these new grads are looking for mentors. They just want someone to tell them what to do. They need to learn on their feet. I am not interested in being a mentor." If she is not interested in being a mentor, that's fine (in fact, I'd rather have someone say that they are not interested than take on a role that doesn't fit him or her), but it would behoove her company (and its retention rates) to find people that are willing to be mentors.

Now, I am back teaching in an independent school. It does not have a mentorship program, which is something that I plan to mention to our principal in an upcoming meeting. I do think it would benefit both new teachers who have just started teaching, and also teachers who are just new to the school. I would recommend having a committee reach out to people who might be good mentors (sometimes the people who volunteer may not be the best fit). These people can choose to participate or not, and meet once a month, talk a couple of times per week, or whatever suits the mentor and mentee.

I have found mentors to be helpful in work, but I also look for them in other areas of my life.

Exercise: I use the Peloton app for indoor cycling. I love the instructors. They are my mentors; they push me, they choose inspiring music, and know how help people achieve real results--three years ago, I lost over 15 pounds using indoor cycling classes and have kept the weight off. This app is affordable and delivers.

Personal development: I seek out blogs that motivate me to learn more about myself. I have started a list on the sidebar of this blog. Some of my favorites include zen habits, Cait Flanders, and Becoming Minimalist. I also listen to podcasts daily; other than OLD, I listen to Tara Brach, This American Life, and Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I also read personal development books, with my most recent book being Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.

Bullet journaling: I love watching bullet journal YouTube videos and scrolling through Instagram accounts. People are so talented and I love gathering ideas for my own journal. On YouTube, I watch AmandaRachLee (she has a friendly demeanor and I love her stationery reviews); jennyjournals (I enjoy the setting of her videos--the candles, the glass desk); ChristineMyLinh (I love her positive attitude and quotations), and Boho Berry (I like her spreads and trackers).

So, how can I find a mentor? How does it work?

1. If you are interviewing with a company, ASK about their mentorship program. This is especially important for people new to the field. If the interviewer (or supervisor) looks at you blankly, seems annoyed, or gives a vague answer, you may want to think whether you really need/want to work for the company.

2. Make a list of a few people that you admire in your field or hobby area. Reach out to them in a professional way. Tell them that you appreciate what they do well (be specific) and ask if they would be willing to meet with you to discuss your career. Most people want to help. If they don't have the time or the desire, they should let you know and you can move on. If you have to reach out to them more than twice, I would move on.

3. If you are in a job without a mentorship program, I would get your feet wet and meet people. Chat with people outside of your department. Recognize the people who are positive thinkers, are trying new things, and are friendly. Then follow step #2.

3. When you meet with your mentor, bring a list of topics you want to talk about. Bring ideas about things that have worked well for you (a strategy, a conversation). This allows you to bring something to the table. You never know, you might help your mentor! Keep your list short, but go beyond yes and no questions. Ask if you can follow up in a set amount of time, and do so.

4. Don't use your mentor meeting as a complaining session. Be positive, constructive, and productive.

I would like a mentor, but...

...I can't find someone that I connect with at this point.
...everyone seems so busy (they are, but you need to ask!).

In this case, figure out your next steps to establishing a relationship. In the meantime, do as I do and YouTube. 

Wait, what?

Yes. YouTube. Do internet searches of topics that you would like to know more about. For me, it was Padlet. I didn't know anyone at work that was using this application, so I looked online. In about 30 seconds, I found this great video from TeachersTech, watched it in less than 15 minutes, and I was up and running. I used the application with my students today and they loved it.

I started this blog for my own benefit--to organize my ideas, to have a record of my successes and challenges, and to process my return to teaching. However, I also hope to give back, and through my blog, be a mentor for someone else. People have done it for me.

Mentors are all around us. If you have experiences with great (or not so great) mentors, please let us know!



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