There is no other way to talk about my mentoring experience than to say that I feel like it’s more than being another adult who tells my mentee what to do.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with my mentee. I knew that I needed to take the lead in getting to know her, and I knew that she expected me to forge that bond. At the same time, I wondered: “Are we going to get along? Are we going to be a good match? Is she going to like me? What if she doesn’t laugh at my jokes?”
I remember just sitting there, asking her all of these questions: What’s your favorite color? What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you like to do? Do you think we’ll get along? *Okay, so I didn’t really ask her that last question.
As my mentee and I spent more and more time together, we discovered a lot about each other. I discovered a lot about her, as much as I’ve discovered a lot about myself. That’s what mentoring does; the process of creating a safe space for a young person to discover who they are, be reaffirmed, and grow, helps you as a mentor to find your own strengths and your own capacity to grow and learn with them.
There are just so many things that I hope my mentee has learned from me: that she can always come to me if she needs someone to talk to; that I will always do my best to create a safe space for her in which she feels like she can make mistakes, learn, and grow; that “knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibility” (okay, I took that from Spiderman); but ultimately, that we’re in this together.
This process of figuring out my mentee, and asking her what she needs from me, helped me learn the middle ground of being a mentor. I’m not her parent, and I’m not her older sister. I can’t tell her what to do or baby her, but I can treat her as an empowered individual from whom I can learn just as much from as she can learn from me. I think that’s how mentoring most impacted me — through learning that I had a lot to teach her, yes, but also, that I had a lot to learn from her. So really, it’s a win-win situation. I get to have fun, get back in touch with my inner child, and cheer her on when she just gets it.
The best way I can describe being a mentor is this: if a parent is your lead cheerleader, mentors are like the back-up cheerleaders. As a mentor, I can never replace my mentee’s parents, but I can help fill in the gaps and share my experiences. I can help her process her identity, help her process her experiences, and help her use those experiences for the better instead of the worse. Mentors serve as the reinforcements — the additional traffic lights, the Google maps, and the extra stop signs. And reinforcements are pretty nice to have, especially if they take you out for ice cream.
Written by: Jessica Lee, Current Mentor