National Mentoring Month: Holding Out for a MentorJanuary 16, 2013
I did not graduate into a quarter-life crisis. Being handed my diploma and finally moving out of a dorm did not bring on attacks of panic or the specter of moving back in with my parents. I had a focus and a goal. This calm, it turns out, is increasingly rare among my 20-something peers. What I still lack, though, is a mentor.
January is National Mentoring Month, and all the talk of inspiring words of wisdom, thoughtful counseling, and meaningful mentor-mentee relationships is making me think: Who counts as a mentor? And do I really need one? Where do I find one? I have yet to identify an inspirational, advice-giving teacher as a mentor. In fact, I must admit that my only real reference for the term is the highly dysfunctional relationship between fictional characters Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon of 30 Rock — not exactly what I’m looking for.
I’ve made it this far without a clearly defined mentor. But I’m in graduate school now, which seems like prime mentoring time. There are theses to be written, internships to be lined up, and jobs to be found. How do I find someone willing to invest time in me? Professors and professionals are all extremely busy, overcommitted people as it is. I worry I would be asking a lot of a mentor without giving back much in return.
It turns out that many women are happy, even itching, to meet a mentee. When we in the AAUW Fellowships and Grants Department asked alumnae to share their thoughts on mentoring, we got some interesting responses. Koritha Mitchell, a 2009–10 American Fellow, wrote, “People LOVE to help. [They] may not offer answers but often [are] delighted to share when asked.” Jessica Ghilani, another 2009–10 alumna, acknowledged the challenges of finding a mentor: “It can be hard to ask for help, but if you don’t, you might not get what you need!” But what is it exactly that I need that only a mentor can provide?
Kristina Halona (whose mentor was an astronaut) explained it best when I spoke with her about her own experience:
A mentor is someone you can talk about your professional aspirations with. They understand the struggles or situations you are experiencing because they have been there or [are] about to be there. You have a shared experience. Not everyone in your life will understand your struggles, even though someone like a friend or family member may care about you deeply. It is important to have someone in your field who understands.
Most AAUW alumnae say that mentorship had a fundamental impact on their career paths. These women certainly did something right, and perhaps having that extra guidance and assurance from a mentor really was as crucial as people say. In a recent Huffington Post article, Julie Fasone Holder wrote, “What stands at the center of ensuring that more women reach the highest echelons of leadership in the workplace is one simple act: mentorship.” This month, that mantra is being echoed around the country and right here at AAUW. Women in all fields are eager to give back to new students and young professionals because of the crucial mentorship they received.
For women who want to mentor, your openness and approachability is appreciated by mentees. I for one have come to recognize the importance of mentorship not as a means to the end of a dream job but for all the lessons and opportunities for growth it offers. I need to take the advice of Esther Ngumbi, 2007–08 International Fellow: “Do not be afraid to fail. Be passionate, and pave the way for others behind you!” Then, someday, I can return the favor.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.