Just over a year ago, I started volunteering with Thrive with Mentoring, coming on board as a mentor in April 2018. What have I learned through this experience?
My mentee was in Mumbai while I was in Hyderabad for half the mentorship year and then in Germany. So this was a virtual mentoring relationship, fueled by WhatsApp messages (as often as we wanted to) and calls (once a month for the first nine months). When I take stock of our WhatsApp correspondence, distinct patterns emerge around mentorship impact, connection, and shared experience. I’ll relate my experience to what I recently heard from a group of mentors and mentees who completed their mentorship year.
The mentoring started as a listening process and then evolved to structured feedback- and this evolution helped create specific impact. We identified the mentee’s needs, my strengths and experience, and worked out success outcomes: streamlined multimedia communication for the mentee’s workshops and greater enrollment. As I look back through our correspondence, I see a vigorous back and forth on email/ flyer/ video content. I see messages about uptick in interest, conversions into enrollment. As a Gen X mentor I did not expect to be guiding a Gen Y mentee on social media. What I saw was digital savvy that needed a nudge in terms of communication impact. And it was great to check off many of these outcomes at the end of the year.
But what if the process had failed to meet desired outcomes? In the year end celebration with other mentees and mentors, it was interesting to see our notions of mentorship successes and failures. Even more interesting was the impulse from participants- especially mentors- to hold back when the process was not going as smoothly as they anticipated. Are mentors expected to know it all and do it all solo? Our takeaway from the discussion was that to achieve the greatest impact, mentors and mentees need to ask for help whenever the process is not going as per plan and not worry about perception (internal or external).
Mentees in the one year celebration event kept returning to the theme of confidence growth. They experienced this through mentors providing neutral and judgment free feedback, holding up a mirror to career possibilities (e.g. lateral growth instead of vertical growth), and helping the mentees develop trust in their intuition (e.g. in risk taking). Mentors and mentees alike glowed when they talked about the connection they had made through this journey. “I’m keeping her” and “this is a lifelong relationship” were two strong sentiments echoed by many.
In my case, I benefitted from “reverse confidence building” too. When called upon to give a live video interview on networking, I rehearsed with my mentee and came away with valuable insights. My mentee’s field of work- helping people communicate and connect with animals, nature, other people, and themselves- opened up a whole new world for me. I was able to impart some of the knowledge to my teenage daughter who is showing signs of interest in a similar field (and come across as an in-the-know parent- no mean feat!)
“Mentoring should be personal but not private,” was one theme that emerged in the end of the year reflection. Within the group, there were mentors and mentees who had chatted in pajamas over Skype and others who had simply had a coffee together as they worked through documents and goals, while still others preferred an extended meal or an informal get together. Whether mentorship is purely professional, involves personal details, or somewhere in between is a choice that the mentor-mentee pair has to make. The mentees and mentors I met agreed that setting these boundaries early on can help.
Through ThrivewithMentoring’s well thought out matching process, the chemistry between my mentee and me has been fabulous and we traded personal stories easily. I know enough about her friends and family and she about mine without it getting uncomfortable. We both faced a crisis affecting someone close to us where we were being called upon for help and shared our experience going through the process. In those calls, it was more about providing a listening ear. In many others it has been about providing professional networking referrals.
At the end of the year, I feel gratitude about this experience. Some items were ticked off, others left behind, and new ones added. Mentorship is an exciting, evolving, fluid relationship. And yes, I’m keeping her!