I’ve never really felt like I could be an effective mentor. There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, I do have a set of guiding principals on how I choose to live my life. But they are mine and held deep inside. As an INFP, this is just something we don’t like to share. I really couldn’t even write them down if I wanted to. I just know that in each situation, I’m guided by my internal compass so I really don’t have a life philosophy to share.
Along with that, I really hesitate to interject myself into anyone else’s life. Who am I to tell them what path to go down. Besides, if I do, then maybe I’ve sent them down the wrong path and they won’t achieve what they were meant to do. Kind of like the prime directive in Star Trek – I’m not to interfere with the natural evolution of another person.
Also, I totally suck at networking (introvert problem #107). And I don’t have a ready source of life altering quotes or books to share. Not that I have any problems with personal growth. Just the opposite. We should all be on a continuous journey to be the best person we can be. I actually think you should read a lot of different things and just adapt the ones that really speak to you. But this is a very personal thing so what speaks to me isn’t going to speak to someone else which is why I don’t recommend these things to people. The sole exception was the book Quiet about introverts which I highly recommended to a couple of my more introverted team members as a way of showing that they matter.
But, I think I was guilty of making the assumption that anyone who wants a mentor is someone who wants to climb the corporate ladder and they want connections and advice on how to do that. I would suck at that. There are those who have different needs and where I am a better fit.
As I mentioned the other day, I’ve lived another year on this earth. To commemorate the occasion, my old college roommate posted a picture of me in my college days on my Facebook page. Those who didn’t know me then got a kick out of it. And this is another problem with me being a mentor because there are so many days when I still feel like that person and who wants advice from a college kid. I should face the reality that I do have a lot of life experience and things to share so maybe it should stop coming as a shock when people seek me out.
Well that was a lot of words about generic stuff so let’s get to the specifics.
For the last three years, I’ve had the same summer intern. He’s really bright and talented and I think very highly of him. Earlier this summer, he gave me a little card with a Starbucks gift card (they all know about my coffee addiction) with some kind words to thank me for giving him the opportunity and for the things he’s learned from me. I did something out of character for me today because I spoke from the heart just to tell him exactly how impressed I’ve been with him over the last couple of years. And to let him know that if he ever needs another letter of recommendation, that I’d be happy to do it.
Each presentation had a slide where the interns thank the people who helped them during the summer so I knew he had included me on the list. When the time came for that slide, he looked directly at me to thank me for all the help and support. It was an honest and sincere expression and it hit me pretty hard. Even before he said that, I found myself rooting for him during his presentation. Do I have the right to say I was proud? That seems a bit much since it just doesn’t feel like I did that much but that feeling was there.
One of the things he said to me in my office before the presentation that he first started right before his sophomore year which is young for an intern. I did throw him into some pretty complicated and critical studies that first year and then gave him a chance to drive one. It is what is expected of an intern program but, if I look at it from his perspective, it is showing a lot of confidence in someone who is very young and very inexperienced. I’m not saying this well but I think I start to see why something that doesn’t seem like a big deal to me comes across as a big deal to someone else.
Oh, and there is another example. I have a young contractor who we hired a year ago. Again, she’s done a lot in a short time but we are constrained in our ability to bring her on full time. There was a job that opened up in another department and she was honest with me about her needs and I told her I had no problem with her going for it.
Interviewing for a job is not a fun thing for most people and, she’s pretty introverted as well and that really makes it hard. And, she’s got some insecurities which makes the process even worse. So she talked to a couple of her good friends in the department but then wanted to talk to me. All kinds of questions about what might happen and what questions they might ask her and what kinds of things should she say and do. I’m clearly no expert on this but, I am a hiring manager, so I just gave her a few things that I’d be looking for in that position. And some advice on how to answer certain questions. And some general interview stuff like not being afraid to take a breath and gather your thoughts before responding. Oh and this was just for the phone interview to start the process.
Then, she got a face to face interview for this Monday and wanted to talk with me about it. She got the call on Friday and my Friday was a zoo so when I finally had time, it was the time I normally leave. For me, it was no problem to hang around for another 30 minutes to answer more questions and offer more pointers – all the while she’s making notes on her lap top. I don’t have a lot of brilliant insights but I think what she really needed was just someone to talk out all her fears and anxieties.
She was then called for a second round of face to face interviews with a couple of people so we had another session. I knew the people she was talking to so I told her what I knew about them and the types of questions they might ask and also gave her some pointers on things in her current job that would be applicable. Things she could sprinkle in to the conversation. I do hope she gets the job but I know there is some tough competition.
At some point in this process, she gave me a card with some words of thanks and a Starbucks gift card (told you they know about my coffee addiction). Honestly, that also touched me.
And, again, I think it helps if I try to look at it from her perspective. I’m the boss and I’m busy and she’s trying to leave the department and here I’m taking time to help her with that process including staying a little late to help her prep. As I said, I live by my code and so it was easily the right thing to do. But I could also see that to her it was something I didn’t have to do.
So maybe the whole mentor thing is only in part what you say. Maybe it is just me taking an interest in their lives that means the most. Maybe that caring is what is meaningful. If someone shows an interest in helping you get to where you want to go, then maybe it means that they believe in you. And, at that age, maybe having someone say or show that is what matters. And, maybe I missed my calling.
I have no idea how these lives will turn out. And I guess it not me so much pointing them to a path. It is really just me showing them that there are plenty of paths and telling them that they can go down anyone that fits. Or maybe I’ve just mixed up way too many metaphors.
I think I’ll stop now. There’s some uncertainty and potentially some bad stuff coming at work. So it just felt good to think that in some small way I may have helped a couple of people on their life journey.