I think it’s true of everyone; it’s just that I have lived so long, it probably happens to me more frequently…
It seems that no matter what someone says to me, I have an experience that is similar that I can relay. I have to work really hard not to jump in when they take a breath and tell them how the very same thing happened to me! I hope that when I do share, it will help to establish that we are similar and therefore have something upon which to build a relationship or at least a common reference point.
When I’m out and about among young professionals, they frequently take me aside for a private conversation or ask for time to talk with me by phone at a later date, particularly about their career direction.
I’m always open to hearing and helping in any way that I can. Sometimes, they want me to just look over their resume and give my thoughts; other times they seek an introduction or nomination for a professional position; and some want to bring me up-to-date on their career in order for me to serve as a reference.
Some of the most intriguing conversations are those when I’m asked to critique a recent interview at a time when the person was not selected for the position. During these conversations, I turn myself into a fly on the wall and imagine the space and the interactions from the perspective of the interviewers and the interviewee. I imagine what the conversation was among the search committee members prior to the candidate’s interview, and I make assumptions about what the conversation would be following the interview as described by the candidate.
What’s uncanny about my mental reenactment is that the candidate and I come to the same conclusion about what was a strength of the candidate during the interview and what needed strengthening. Sometimes one’s reflections upon an experience needs a mirror outside of one’s self.
In a recent conversation with a tremendously talented mid-level administrator, I was struck by how our experiences were so similar. I was able to share my experiences and what I learned upon reflection. I also found that the person in describing her experiences used the exact same words that I used when I wrote in my journal following our common experience!
While time marches on and the circumstances in regard to climbing the career ladder may differ, I continue to be amazed how the experiences elicit many of the same responses and reactions that colleagues generations before also expressed. It’s these kinds of encounters that convince me that mentors can be useful.
Seldom am I stumped for words when I’m in conversation with those who want a sounding board. I use my communication skills that have as the first rule that I listen attentively and encourage the speaker to continue. When I do respond, because this person has trusted me with their deepest dreams, aspirations, and fears, I have moved them to my inner circle of people I love and want to protect and help succeed.
While I have at times shied away from being a mentor in the formal sense because I didn’t think I had enough to offer, I realize now that it’s not what the mentor thinks she has to offer, but what the person who wants a mentor thinks one has to offer. And, if the potential mentor has reflected on experiences and gleaned lessons from them, the relationship can be mutually beneficial.
After listening and sharing with some of my colleagues who are thinking about the paths they want to take for the next stages of their career, I feel energized, hopeful, and useful. There are not many experiences that can leave me with such a feeling of euphoria.