Monday, April 21, 2014

The Gift and Wisdom of Mentors or: don't try to be a rose when you're really a daisy!


“If you ask an Irishman for directions, he might be quick to answer, Well if I were going there, I would not start here.” 
― Steve Stockman


I was going to post pictures of all the snow in my backyard that separates me from my Magnolia  - I sunk knee deep in it trying to make a Laura Ingalls-like-trek to the far end of the garden - but then I had other thoughts.

That is the joy of having this kind of a whirling-dervish kind of mind.

Dervish



What I got to thinking about was mentors.

If we are lucky, we have mentors throughout our lives.

Fact: Mentoring positively influences productivity and job satisfaction.


They can be a friend who takes an interest in our well-being and shares a piece of what they know with us or shows us the ropes.  My friend Barbie taught me to swim the crawl at a birthday party out at the Causeway when I was a kid.

Pat Garcelon taught me early leadership through the Brownies.



Mrs. McConkey and Mrs. Garnett were two beloved teachers at St. Stephen Elementary School who never appeared to be bored when I would take them some of my writing to read, even though I am sure they often were.




My Professor and then Thesis Adviser Larry Wisniewski taught me to think critically, write better and be a smart ass.

My work colleague Gary taught me to care about the people we were working on behalf of.

Other colleagues like Martine, Jean and Geraldine shared their knowledge freely and became good personal friends.

Others further ahead gave me a hand up - Karen, Edith, Don, Dave.  And no surprise - they gave a lot of people a hand up, because that's what dyed-in-the-wool mentors do.

Some became my on-site therapists along the way, such as Roger and Michel, who stopped me from jumping more then once!

And I was mentored by many in the non-profit world who worked tirelessly on behalf of others for often very little pay.

Nowadays, I am humbled by the people mentoring me and supporting me in my new life.

Mostly, though, I would say I was mentored by the people who worked for me.  They were always so bright, so much smarter than I was, that all I pretty much had to do was set them off and then get the hell out of their way as they did whatever it was ten times better than I ever would.




What got me thinking about this today?

I was reading an article that asked: "What is the best piece of wisdom you ever got from a mentor?"

I didn't have to think very long.

It was 2001 and I had made a dreadful career mistake.  I had changed jobs for money.  My personal experience in life is that when you change jobs for money alone, you are never bringing  the "whole" you to the job, just the mercenary part of yourself.

I had decided to leave and return to my old job.  And while I knew I was making the right decision, I was embarrassed and knew that most people were thinking that not only was I taking a step backwards, I was obviously a pretty flighty person.  And probably they were right on both counts.

But lucky for me, I ran into another mentor, Madeleine.  She had recently retired and had no idea that I'd left my old job to begin with.  I told her of the change and my unhappiness and of my decision to go back to the old job.

"Well of course you're going back," she said.  "You're took a job that required the personality of a hothouse flower.  You, my dear, are a daisy in the field - you need to be out there spreading seeds and being you."

I never looked back and I was never embarrassed about my decision after she said that.

And did remember her advice when I was making my decision to leave my old job last year.  I needed to be spreading seeds all over the place again.

And when my article appeared in the Globe and Mail in late December, the illustrator, who knew nothing about me, painted me walking away in a field of daisies.

I only noticed that for the first time a moment ago when I happened to look up at the picture.  Talk about a coincidence....


(MIKO MACIASZEK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)


.... or not.

I'd like to hope that I'd share similar wisdom if asked a similar kind of question by someone seeking my advice.  

I do know one thing - you have to pay it forward.  I owe it to the people who mentored me along the way to reach out to help others when asked.

So my question today:  have you been mentored in your life and do you serve as a mentor for others?

Have a wonderful day out there!


30 comments:

  1. What a nice post. Several years ago as my New Years resolution I decided to reconnect with three ladies who had a big impact on my life and that I had lost touch with. The internet made it doable but it was still difficult with maiden versus married names. So glad I did it. Words of wisdom are always appreciated and hopefully a few pearls manage to leave my mouth also.

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    1. what a great idea! I bet that was a wonderful experience!

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  2. What an amazing post, no I've never really been mentored, I've never really been part of anything or any group so it just hasn't appeared.

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    1. well you have certainly been supportive of me and my writing so I would say you are a natural born mentor!

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  3. Great post Wendy. Mentoring, guiding and coaching others is something I really enjoy and feel that I excel at. I have not had a "mentor" but was lucky to have a few really good managers over the years. I appreciated your story about leaving a job for more money. I did that when I left a place where I was appreciated and valued for a new job, more responsibility and a lot more money - only to be completely miserable for the entire time (6 months) I was there. I later learned that very few were successful in that role, but it was the only time I did not succeed at a corporate job-which stung for a long time. The end result of me leaving is I something I loved-for a lot less money-but it didn't matter because I also got to be home with my boys for many years-which IMHO was a great investment.

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    1. Julie - isn't it funny that some of our biggest setbacks turn out to be thing that puts us on the right path?

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  4. Very interesting topic, Wendy. Like Tabs, I think I've lacked mentors in my life. I have had some very poor managers and bosses, who have taught me how not to behave, but never really had any memorably good role models in my work.
    Hmmm. I wonder how I can go about finding one?

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    1. I've had lousy bosses as well and they teach you how to be a boss often better than the good ones! I just found folks I admired and asked a lot of questions and learned from them, but I think some people are naturally mentors and most of them mentor many, because that's the kind of personality they have.

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  5. Great topic Wendy. I wish I'd had a Madeleine in my life. I've been mentored by very few, but certainly inspired by women much smarter than I.

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    1. I think inspiration by smarter women is a great thing! I am inspired to make little films today after seeing your blog post last night!

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  6. I have a very few close friends who are debate coaches who have helped and guided me as I learned how to do my job, and some colleagues at the Academy who have helped me learn how to teach and navigate the challenges of working with the military. But much like you--my best mentors are my students (the ones who I'm supposed to be mentoring!). They constantly teach me the value of listening, of patience, of teamwork, of kindness, of courage and even stubbornness in the face of adversity, etc etc.

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    1. And then they go on with their lives and take their greatness with them! Don't you love having students? When I taught at the university I thought it was such a pleasure!

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  7. Anyone will be blessed to have you as a mentor, Wendy. I've never had a female mentor since I work in a male-dominated field. I was lucky to be mentored by two previous male bosses who threw me into the water and let me swim and find my bearings while being there to save me if I drown. I am now mentoring a new graduate and am passing on the wisdom and lessons I learned from my mentors. Feels good to be helping out and happy that my mentee is doing much better than I did when I was his age.

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    1. Hi Marie - I think men are more used to mentoring and being mentored. They do those extra-curricular activities - golfing for instance - very well. The rest of us were rushing home to our children! I bet you are an awesome mentor!

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  8. Well, those could be daisies. Love that story!

    I've had both positive and negative mentors( dear god, don't let me be like that person types); one a bit ahead of me in training who taught us to always approach each person with an attitude of "what can I do for you today?" This has followed me for 30 years and was key to much of my success. There were not a lot of working moms, though, so I am so glad to mentor others about that.

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    1. Lane, that "don't let me..." made me smile aloud, so true that we can also learn what not to be!

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    2. Lane - if you could see the picture close up - they are definitely daisies. I agree - negative personalities can create plenty of learning opportunities....

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  9. I too had lots of people who "looked out" for me as I toiled away at my career. I then tried to be a good mentor to those who came after me. I encouraged and supported people to do the best with what they were given or wanted to do. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. But it always benefitted me.

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    1. I hear you! I bet you were a great mentor!

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  10. for most of my working life, I had to make my own path. In high school. I had a few wonderful teachers but also many who couldn't understand why there was a girl in the classroom.

    You were very lucky, as are those you mentored and encouraged.

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    1. what an awful school to not even understand why there was a girl in the classroom! Scary, isn't it?

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  11. Wendy, I appreciate the whirling dervish that brings us these time-outs and that fact that you see the daisies in that lovely field. I also think your elementary school teachers would be very proud.

    In the traditional professional realm, the mentors I've had have either been brilliant or abysmal. Then again, the poor ones didn't choose me and were often in positions of power versus responsibility if that makes sense.

    The mentors I value most are those that happily shared a skill missing from my repertoire (how to build a sustainable campfire, frost a mean cupcake, drive a stick shift) and were somehow, much more importantly, always there with the right thing or the right thing to say, whether lifelong or in the moment mentors.

    Paying that generousity of spirit forward is the best acknowledgement and compliment most mentors could get I think. Right now I miss actual mentoring (Big Sisters that kind of stuff from my earlier life) but I definitely try to be the kind of person people can count on for help. Need to do it more as does come back to you.

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    1. GF - they are definitely daisies when you see them large in the actual painting! In this case, no flight of fancy on my part!

      I love mentoring as well - it always make me happy!

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  12. It's interesting how much difference a mentor can make.

    No mentors for me either. Of course, I was in a male-heavy occupation (patent lawyer), especially the case back in the 90s. The female partners (singular actually, just one of them) at the time seemed intent on proving themselves and fitting in with the men more than mentoring women. I felt like I was entirely on my own and I hated it, wholeheartedly. Hopefully things have changed; I actually have no idea as I quit as soon as I paid off my student loans...

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    1. And more's the loss for them. How many people, especially women, do the same?

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  13. I am sure it sounds really corny but the job I am most proud of is being a mom and a grandmother. I have definitely followed my mom's lead on being a grandmom and to some degree a mom. Mostly though I feel like I trusted my own gut for better or worse.

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    1. Not corny at all! Best mentors ever! Should have had them in my list!

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  14. Great post, Wendy. So much food for thought here. I have been lucky to have one amazing mentor at the first law firm I worked at, but at the second law firm, I was operating on my own with only the figurative lashings of the whip over my head (the dreaded billable hours yearly quota) to motivate me. Now working as a freelancer, I often feel completely lost at sea and very isolated. It would be wonderful to have a mentor. As for me being a mentor, I volunteered for a while at the public library as a literacy tutor, helping kids improve their reading skills and also helping them with school homework. It was fun and I like to think that the kids I worked with had fun. I sometimes think about returning to it, but my personal energies are already stretched to their limit.

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    1. And you are currently mentoring your children...

      I used to work a lot of crazy hours and a lot of them were because of fear of failure or of getting into trouble or not doing enough! Have you seen that new book The Confidence Code? I am ordering it tonight. We can all use more confidence!

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  15. I must say, I have not found many mentors in the working world. It was the downside of being in cut-throat businesses. But the writing world has more loving souls!

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Kindness is a virtue...