I Am a Mentor Day!
Senior mentor Gladys shares her thoughts on mentoring:
Mentoring a young person is a privilege. I am learning that it is a responsibility that calls upon us to engage deeply, be vulnerable to sharing our experiences, and commit to making room for someone else. That’s the framework embedded in my relationship with my mentee, who is now a senior at Holy Trinity through PEAK.
Engaging deeply with my mentee entailed connecting with her family. The first time I met my mentee, I also met her parents at a PEAK event. As a new mentor, I would have never considered interacting with parents prior to developing a relationship with the student. However, meeting her parents was a perfect way to gain their trust. It allowed them to put a face to the name and see whose hands their child was in. As a result, I’ve been able to better engage with my mentee. We focus on our time together rather than on whether her family will allow her to leave the house with a stranger. This is despite having only interacted with them four times in almost four years. I realize not all students live with parents so the introduction may not always be possible, in which case, as mentors we have to adjust and engage in ways that will most benefit the student.
Be vulnerable to sharing experiences
I have to say that approaching mentoring with openness to vulnerability has facilitated closeness with my mentee. For instance, I decided to talk to my mentee about a recent breakup with a long-time boyfriend, who she had met. I remember debating whether to share or withhold the details of that breakup and, subsequently, my feelings about it. After all, mentors are supposed to “know” things and have their life in order so that they can “teach” their mentees. However, sharing my vulnerabilities contributed so much more to the mentoring process. I treated her like an adult and equal a partner in our relationship. We broke any perceived hierarchy that only serves to create walls between humans. For us, a deeper connection occurred when we leveled the playing field.
Commit to make room for someone else
The greatest myth is that you have to be young to mentor a student. Perhaps a smaller age gap is helpful because it builds the mentor’s confidence rather than the age difference being a detriment in itself for the student. Instead of age, as mentors we can focus on what we can control – how we “show up” for the student. Despite being a young mentor at 29 years old, knowing how to be there for my mentee when I’m so busy has been the greatest challenge for me. In a literal sense, I’ve “shown up” to some of my mentee’s important volleyball games, I make all Saturday PEAK events, we hang out once in a while, and I text her randomly to let her know I’m thinking about her. This is likely far from enough.
On the other hand, I’d like to think that I show up for my mentee by laying the groundwork so that long-term mentorship can occur. Through our interactions, we are building the necessary trust for the future. Earning trust takes time. I try to be my genuine self with her. I don’t always push, but let her know I am available. I try not give advice without first asking for permission. When I ask personal questions, I try to let her know she doesn’t need to answer if she’s not comfortable. In the beginning, I did all of the outreach, but over time she has begun to reach out a more despite her busy schedule. I don’t expect her to reach out more than 50% of the time until she’s older. I wholeheartedly think this is okay and part of the mentoring process.
Last year as a PEAK mentor
Getting to know my mentee for the past four years has been the most wonderful. She doesn’t know this, but I always say she’s the mentor because I learn more from her than she learns from me. While boyfriends might go away, my commitment to her is everlasting. I hope to continue to have the privilege of being part of her life because I consider her a permanent part of mine.
Gladys and her mentee Fernanda at a PEAK event