As I prepare for Wednesday and my guest appearance in a local high school health class, I am focusing on the importance of Mentors. Each time I teach or speak to a large audience, I am struck by how many adults don’t have mentors. And then I think about the 9th graders I will be addressing on Wednesday. How many of them understand the meaning of the word “Mentor“? And beyond the meaning, will they be able to grasp the power of having mentors in your life?
I realize they’ll understand the word “coach” so I am going to start there and build on that concept. They see “coaches” in sports and on TV shows like “the Voice“. They will understand that coaches tell you how to improve, they tell you to raise your elbow, bend your knees, keep your eye on the ball. They analyze what you might not be doing right, and give you directed pointers on how to improve. I believe this will make sense to them.
But a mentor – how is that different? It’s someone who asks you the difficult questions, whose open-ended questions help you find your own truth – your own path. They aren’t focused on ‘winning’ or getting to the finish line. They are focused on their Mentee and trying to tease out the knowledge that comes from examining what we believe to be true and questioning assumptions. Mentors should have experience in the area you are pursuing, should be able to guide you but not tell you the exact path to your future. Mentors listen and show you multiple paths and help you explore your possibilities. They don’t push their agenda and/or the path they believe you should pursue.
How do I impress upon 14 year olds that they are not too young to have Mentors? These mentors could be a parent, friend of their parent, teachers, coach or clergy. Maybe they are a budding soccer star. Why not look for a local college or university soccer player that could mentor them through the myriad of choices and opportunities that will present themselves as they advance in the ranks? Maybe they are an amazing writer. Their short stories and ideas keep getting them As in their classes and they write “all the time”. Why not pursue a creative writing mentor? Could be a local university professor or professional author.
We are only limited by our imaginations and our fear of the unknown. Other roadblocks include the excuses and rationalization we put in our paths. You may be thinking – “Those folks won’t want to talk to these kids. Why would they want to ‘waste’ time on a 14 year old?” Think again! First of all, it’s a huge ego boost to someone when they are asked to mentor. Second, it’s an opportunity to give back. Maybe they had someone in their lives that mentored them and helped them find their path to success. Maybe they want to foster growth in their sport or their area of expertise.
It’s never too late to ask someone to be your Mentor. And what is the worst thing that can happen? You already know the answer. They say ‘no’. And you realize that they probably weren’t the right Mentor for you. So you go back out and find the right one. And you find your path forward.
Who will you ask to be your Mentor?