No adult becomes who they are without the influence of others. Generally, our parents are among the most influential shapers our selves. Often, we can also name our mentors; those who have guided us along the way. Many of our mentors are teachers or work supervisors, but mentors can be found in many places within the community.
There have been many times in the past several years that I have lamented not having a mentor, thinking that I should be able to think of that one person who really stands out as having provided ground-breaking guidance that changed the course of my life; I've heard stories of this sort of mentor. But I've come to recognize that it is often impossible to claim a single mentor, that we meet so many people in our lives who shape us - how can there be only one? So I've tried to pinpoint some of the individuals who have shaped me along the paths I've taken. Today, I'd like to share a little about a few of the people who I consider my mentors.
When I was in high school, I met Carol. She was the director at a wildlife-focused non-profit organization where I volunteered. She spent much of every day tracking the animals in her care, ensuring their health and safety, spending time with those who needed a little extra attention, be they wildlife or volunteer. I can't point to any single moment that exemplifies her role as mentor; she was just there, consistently demonstrating her work ethic and compassion. Carol showed me how to be focused, but still flexible enough to reach out to those in need.
I met Bob, John, and Tom while I was in college. Each of them are accomplished researchers in their own disciplines, and I was fortunate to work on projects with them. The time that we spent together was limited by design, but they helped develop the foundations of the researcher I have become. They got me started by asking interesting questions and pushed me to solve many challenging problems. They helped me gain self-confidence and self-reliance.
Marian was my supervisor when I landed my first 'real' job. She led her team by example, with dedication and professionalism. She provided enough guidance and reassurance to help me succeed as a new employee, while allowing me to claim each success as my own, including the eventual publication of my first manuscript. Her understanding of the needs of her staff was remarkable as she worked tirelessly to balance the strong personalities of her team. Marian demonstrated true leadership and trust in her employees, traits that I hope to emulate in my own leadership roles.
Ray has been a dedicated volunteer for many years. While his career in engineering engaged his skills as a tinkerer and builder, his true calling has been as a teacher. He tutors young students, but for many of them he also seems to serve as a surrogate grandparent: a person who will buoy you with well-earned praise, but whose disappointment is palpable when you fail to do your best. He has a lifetime of experience and knowledge, and he shares it readily, but he is also always ready to question. When Ray asks a question, sometimes it is because he knows the answer, but wants you to find it for yourself; as I said, he is a teacher. Sometimes Ray asks a question because he is filled with genuine curiosity and wants to learn more about the world; he is an explorer, too. Ray taught me how to become wise and reminded me that the title volunteer often belongs to individuals who embody both knowledge and passion.
These are a few of my mentors. I have many others - Marilyn, Richard, Bernadette, Omaira, Mary, Chris, Luis, Deanna, Kye-Han, Priscilla, Brian, Sheila, Aydin, Mark... - each providing a part of the person I'm trying to become. I've begun to see my mentors as the patches in the patchwork quilt of my self. The pieces are different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures. Some are a bit plain and seem to fade into the background. Others are bright and bold, drawing the eye. But without all of them together, I am incomplete. I am grateful to my many mentors and I hope that I can be as good a mentor as those who have guided me.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on mentoring. Please send a comment!