“I wish I had a mentor in my life,” is a common refrain from women of all ages. Many of us long for an angelic powerhouse who will take us under her wing and guide us through all of life’s tough situations. And, hey, some women are lucky enough to get this. Most of us, however, receive our mentoring in fits and starts and from various people along the way. This more scattered approach is every bit as valuable, even if it requires more effort. In addition to convincing you that we can be finding mentors all around us, I hope this post inspires you to believe in your own mentoring powers. As someone who runs a nonprofit based on mentoring, I often hear from women that they don’t really consider themselves “mentor material.” Let’s dispel the three biggest myths about mentoring so you can begin to see yourself as being exactly the “mentor material” that someone needs.
Myth 1: “I’m not expert enough.”
“Me?” you may be thinking. “How can I be a mentor?” If you’re imagining you must be like Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah – at the peak of your career with large spheres of influence – the bar you have set is simply too high. A mentor is someone who provides guidance, motivation, emotional support, and/or role modeling. In all likelihood, you are already doing this with one or more girls in your life and just haven’t called it mentoring.
You’ve no doubt learned many life lessons by this point: everything from figuring out that an embarrassing moment won’t actually kill you, to setting aside your ego to ask for help when everything feels like it’s coming apart at the seams. Life lessons like these are incredibly valuable for girls and young women, and you’ve already got the goods!
Myth 2: “It takes time to be a mentor, and my calendar is nuts.”
We get it. You have a million things on your monthly to-do list with deadlines galore. But, mentoring doesn’t mean you have to get together with your mentee daily or even weekly. Maybe it’s once a month, or even a few times a year. Maybe it happens over FaceTime rather than an in-person meet-up. The important thing is to be clear and upfront with the girl(s) you’re mentoring about your time commitments. You might say, “I’ve been thinking about how much I’d love to spend an hour or so with you once a month if you’d be interested. We can catch up, and – if you want – I can help you out with any issues that might pop up.”
If she tells you that her calendar is too out of control, let her know, “I hear you. I just want you to know you’re important to me. I’m here for you if you ever want someone to talk with.” That in itself is such a huge gift.
Myth 3: “I might not have the right answers for her.”
True, and this could be good news. It means that you can do more listening and asking questions, something the best mentors do. Ask the girl in your life, “Are you struggling with anything right now?” Whatever she brings up, offer empathy: “That sounds hard,” or “I bet that is really stressful.” Most of the time, people don’t want us to tell them the right next step. What they really want is to be heard and supported.
If your mentee is seeking more guidance, ask her if she wants to brainstorm options. What are all the things she could do in this situation? Let her go wild, even if her answers are nonsensical (“I could push the girl who is bullying me off a cliff,” or “I could call out the professor who made me feel dumb.”) Write them all down. Then ask her afterward which one feels best for her and her needs. If she isn’t sure, tell her to take her time and weigh the pros and cons of each option. If she does pick a solution, let her own it. Instead of “Hey, we figured it out,” try, “Hey, you figured out what works for you. Good job!” Not only did you help her move through a life challenge, but you showed up and helped guide her—just like a mentor.