Mentor. It’s a word you hear thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? Are they teachers? Leaders? Yes and yes, and in a way, mentors are really superheroes.
“Mentor” can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it is an experienced and trusted advisor. Synonyms would be confidant, counselor, consultant, even therapist. When used as a verb, mentor means to advise or train someone, especially a younger colleague. So there’s that.
I was listening to a podcast by Susie Davis this week (if you haven’t discovered Susie, I highly recommend doing so) on mentors and it got me thinking: who are my mentors; both currently and previously? For some, this might be an easy question but for me it took some time to really conclude who my true mentors have been.
I decided to break down my mentors by what they’ve mentored me in, whether it be spiritually, professionally, or personally. Let’s start with spiritually.
I’m a cradle Catholic, so I’d have to say my initial spiritual mentor would have to be my mom, who raised me Catholic and still prays her rosary every day. Still, I grew up memorizing prayers and going to mass, but it wasn’t until college that I truly grew spiritually in a personal way.
This Catholic from the mountains of Santa Fe arrived at the University of Oklahoma and listened intently as roomies talked about bible studies. They had worn out bibles on their nightstands! Growing up, our family bible always remained in a box on a living room table…complete with gold-edged pages and a red leather cover…but was never opened and read. The girls also called themselves “Christian.” I remember thinking, “Am I Christian?” You see, in Santa Fe, you were basically either Catholic or Jewish…the word “Christian” was never really used. “Born again” and “Accepting Jesus as my Savior” (don’t we do that every day I thought) had never entered my mind and were only phrases I’d heard TV evangelists say as they took people’s money. My fellow Sooners ultimately opened my mind that the bible is meant to be read, that you could still be cool and be Christian, and talking about God and Jesus with friends was normal and good. I guess you could say they were my first mentors to introduce me to a whole new world of spirituality.
In a way, they were my first true mentors as I really didn’t have any childhood mentors (other then my parents) and I can’t think off the top of my head any teachers that I would consider a mentor. I guess if you’re going to have mentors, they might as well be spiritual ones, right?
Years later I found my grown up self in a wonderful bible study after I was married and our daughter was a baby. The ladies in the study, which we called “LIPS” for “Ladies in Prayer and Service,” taught me more than I’d ever known about the bible, spirituality, and prayer. From them I learned even more about Catholicism but also “talk to God” prayer. Like I said, I’d always been one to recite memorized prayers, but to just talk to God was eye opening. I loved it and am forever grateful to those powerful and prayerful spiritual mentors in my life.
Since then I’ve had one other bible study, and they too mentored me and inspired me with their grace and wisdom. A much smaller group then LIPS, what I loved about this circle of mentors was that we varied so much in age and stage of life. Listening to others whose lives are much different than yours is one sure way to be mentored and learn. This is also the case with my sister Patti and brother-in-law Frank. He is a Catholic deacon and she has devoted her life to prayer and worship. Together, they’ve quietly and remotely mentored me in what it means to follow God and His word. They are my ongoing mentor go-to’s whenever I have a religious question or issue.
On a personal level, mentors have included many friends who are still in my life as well as those who have come in and out of my life, serving the purpose they were meant to serve at the time. I try to surround myself with people I can learn from and I’ve learned so much from so many.
Professionally on a personal level, I’ve previously been blessed with a wonderful therapist named Stacie, who guided me through battles and struggles, all the while making me stronger and more confident. I’m a firm believer in therapy and even though Stacie moved out-of-state many years ago, I still sometimes refer back to my notes from my sessions with her and deep down I know she is merely a Skype away.
I’ve also been “mentored” by my husband and daughter although perhaps not in the traditional way. My husband has taught me to be accepting of flaws and weaknesses, stop overthinking and worrying, release the need to plan everything all the time, and avoid debt at all costs. Our daughter has so brilliantly demonstrated the art of dealing with one’s adversities and overcoming them with a vengeance, being a good and loyal friend, and fighting for what you believe in. Both of them have also taught this introvert to be more social and outgoing. It’s a struggle, but I’m trying!
Daughter of course means motherhood. Oh boy do we all need mentors for that, right? First and foremost my mentor for that was my sister Coral. She taught me so much about the many do’s and don’ts of raising our daughter when Kristen was little and to this day (our daughter is now 25…almost 26) I both use and recommend much of what I learned from her. Although we are not as close as we once were, her motherhood mentorship is something I will always cherish.
This brings us to professional mentors. The first one that comes to mind for me was a TV news producer I worked for right out of college named Mary Ann. A tough New York City girl, she took me under her wing, bought me my first brief case, and taught me so very much about the news industry. If I could hug her right now, I would. I also worked with a news reporter named Karen who perhaps didn’t mentor me in the classic sense, but she showed the young me what it meant to be a true journalist, was an amazing writer, and always showed respect to me even in my rookie role as an editor. Had I stayed in the news business, she would have been my role model mentor. I ultimately left journalism (thanks mostly to a boss who was anything but a good and decent mentor), and was so fortunate to be thrown in the lap of several bright women who taught me all about the flip side of reporting the news: publicity, promotions, and media relations. It was a whole new world to me but one Lori, Norah, Kathy, and Cathy taught me all about with both humor and eloquence.
After I made the decision to leave full-time employment to raise our daughter (thank you mentors for that suggestion!), I found myself teaching preschool at our church. I went in thinking I wanted to be an assistant to several classrooms but begrudgingly agreed to do so in just one class with just one teacher. She turned out to be a true God send and was just the mentor I needed to lead me in this new path I’d found. Christine was perfect. She was fun, witty, smart, and a seasoned and damn good teacher. Much of what I do today in my class is what I learned from her.
What I love about most of these mentors I’ve talked about is that many of them may not even know how much they influenced and inspired me. Maybe that’s what a real mentor does though: quietly lead and guide with no expectations of praise or adulation.
I’ve also been quietly motivated by something old school, books, and something current, the internet. A long-time lover of books (and yes I still buy the real deals), I have learned everything from spirituality, meditation, simplicity, and decor from many an author. Online, I’m daily inspired by blogs I follow and emails I receive on prayer, style, and aging gracefully. These might not qualify as true “mentors,” but if you learn from them and are stimulated by them, go for it.
The flip side of all this is being a mentor, which is often much harder but also something you may not even realize you are doing. Think about it, how you behave and perform at work influences coworkers. How you behave personally influences your children. If you work, lead, and live with integrity you are pretty much good to go. From there, take it a step further and maybe get out of your comfort zone and actually mentor someone.
I’ll wrap it up with none other than Susie Davis. The epitome of joyful despite an imperfect life, Susie has taught me to be unafraid, be beautifully content, and to enjoy my one beautiful life. I am forever grateful to her and the many mentors in my life and hope that someday someone out there will think of me as a mentor as well. In the meantime, I’ll continue to live the best life I know how and to lead by example. If I mentor someone along the way, yay me!
Who are your mentors?