When did I become the mentor?

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Image via Erik Drost, https://flic.kr/p/pt3Dm2

I have been mentored, mostly informally, by many people over the course of my life.  It’s been invaluable to me to have people in my life that inspire me, that give me good advice, that I can turn to when I am stuck on a problem.  In the last 5-10 years, however, I’ve realized that, while I still have mentors in my life (thank goodness!), I am more often in the role of mentor.  With students, of course, that’s been true for a while, but it’s increasingly become true with adults.  And I have to say, it sometimes feels weird.  It’s not that I don’t think I have wisdom or knowledge to pass on, or that I don’t want to help people.  But I’ve found myself in situations where it’s clear people are looking to me not just for a quick tip, but looking at me like I can lead them to where they want to be, that I have something to offer that will truly impact their lives.  And that takes my breath away.  It’s humbling and it’s a hard thing to live up to.

I think I feel this way because I mostly feel like I don’t have everything figured out.  Partly that’s because I never stay in my comfort zone.  I’m always seeking new challenges and so, of course, when I find myself facing new situations, I think I need to be the one asking others for support and guidance.  As it turns out, that experience of seeking new challenges is partly what got me into this mess in the first place.  Because when you have a variety of experiences to draw on, you tend to learn from those and apply them to the next situation, and so you’ve learned a lot.  You’ve built an extensive mental map of “how things work.”  And people often recognize that and want to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience that they think you probably have.

I have always taken my role as mentor to students seriously, even when I was basically 3 years older than them (it’s true!).  Mentoring the adults that work with students feels even more important to me as they can then go out and use the lessons learned from me with their students, a kind of pyramid effect. And god, what if I get that wrong.  It’s a lot to have on one’s shoulders.  But one thing that’s great about the teachers and staff I work with is that I really do learn as much from them as they might from me.  They never take what I say without talking through it, without challenging some piece of it, changing something about it, and adding to it.  I’m really only as good as the people I’m surrounded by, and they impress me pretty much every day.  So while I may chafe a bit against the idea that I’m serving in mentor role, I take comfort in the idea that I’m always also being mentored as long as I’m still learning.