What does it mean to be a mentor? To be guided by a mentor?
These questions have come up in conversation for me numerous times in the last few months. Really, from both ends.
We hosted a salon in my apartment back in January on the theme of Mentorship: Where have mentors been helpful to you? Where do you find them? What do you ask them? And because we have a group of people coming from very different fields (academics, students, artists, writers, economists, consultants, graphic designers, etc.), we got very different answers for each field. The conversation was rich with different types of questions and guidance that we were looking for from our mentors or future mentors.
A couple of friends have reached out to me in the last few months and connected me to friends or asked me to talk to them about how I have done my job search/career search process. It is interesting to be on this side of this, since I did not graduate all that long ago and I feel that I am still learning to navigate many things. Of course, I said yes, I would talk to friends and their friends about what I am looking for and how I approached applications or looking for new opportunities.
This may be made more interesting by the fact that I switched jobs a handful of times in the last three months. I left a stable think tank job to work on a start up building software for contact tracing in the Ebola crisis, then I was freelancing as a researcher and doing a handful of different things… and finally, I took a job with the TED Content team (which I am loving and am really excited about). I’m not traditional in any sense, and a lot of my struggle with this has been finding a space that understands why I am obsessed with informal economies and constantly learning new things. TED is the perfect space for me to be right now, especially because I love the team I work with. Every single one of them.
A little over a month ago, however, when friends were beginning their “should I switch jobs” conversations with me, I felt I was unable to offer more than a kind ear and some questions, because I, too, was in flux. Perhaps the difference this time around was that I was not afraid. I had found ways that I could depend on myself and think on my feet that were new to me. I was beginning to really define my strengths and see places where I could work on my weaknesses to keep growing and being a better teammate. I also developed my 2015 roadmap and new goals for job searching (pre-TED) by what I wanted to learn this year and through the next few years (both in hard and soft skills).
I watched the “quarter-life crisis” as a friend called it, when she asked me to breakfast, dumped her doubts on the table, and asked if we could sort through them. And we did. Did she leave with a clear answer about what was next? No. But she did leave with a better sense of what she wanted to learn, and perhaps a handful of places that she would be able to do that.
This year I’ve been watching consultant and banking friends ask me, “what is next?” and “how did you find places to do what you do?”
My more non-profit oriented friends asking, “how do I handle the burn out when the cause isn’t enough to get my out of bed on frozen February mornings?”
And now students asking me, “where should I start looking?”
Last night I opened my email from an organization that I decided to volunteer with run by the Yale Latino Alumni Association introducing me to a short description of the freshman that I will be “mentoring.” My mentors have provided me with ideas about what is out there, helped me think through how I explain what I do and have to offer… and kept me positive when I went through long cycles of rejection after interview after interview. Something I had not dealt with in the same kind of rapid succession… really ever in my life before.
I think what I’ve learned about mentorship is that sometimes it’s about being that kind ear and asking questions to refine the narrative coming out of a person… and sometimes it is saying, We’re going to make a list of things you want to learn and people you think are badass. How do you want to get there.
I hope I can do a good job. Like the strong women who have guided me to where I am today.