Thursday, February 18, 2016

Hooray! I'm a mentor.

If you’re lucky, one of the things you get to do in your Third Third is to be a mentor. If you’re even luckier, someone picks you. They think you can be a help to them in their career, their lives, or their general development. There’s no better affirmation of the fact that you’ve acquired experience, expertise, and maybe even a little wisdom.

I got picked! For many years, I’d arranged mentorships for the participants in Leadership Anchorage. I did workshops on mentorships for the Society for Human Resource Management; I worked with organizations to set up mentoring programs. But be a mentor? Never.

And then Derrick picked me. (Why does that sound like a song?) He picked me at a time when I felt overloaded, not so high in self-esteem, a lot bothered. But I agreed to meet with him, still not sure why he’d picked me – where did he even get my name? – or what I could possibly offer him.
Derrick is a young, black, small businessman. He’s run for political office, is committed to his community, family, and profession. So we met. We talked. It was okay, but finally I asked him, “What do you want? What do you need a mentor for?” And Derrick said, “I feel stuck.”

“Aha! Stuck is good. Stuck is what I can help with. Unsticking is what I do.” So we talked about his Big Goals, what was holding him back, how he could free himself up so he could pursue them. We got pretty specific, talked about passing responsibilities to a partner, saying no to things. Along the way, we talked about thank you notes, about how I think sending thank you notes differentiates you from the crowd.

Within a week, someone called, mentioned that they’d met Derrick, spent some time with him, and then received a thank you note afterwards, wasn’t that nice? Whoa, this guy was quick.

The next time we met, Derrick had made plans to take the law school admission test, had researched law schools, was planning to sell his house and his business. Not just wildly scattershot either; he had made Plans. Once he un-stuck, he moved. He claims I’d helped, but Derrick is a guy with a lot on the ball. He’d even read a book I’d briefly mentioned, and we talked about it.

So then I thought, what else can I offer him from my Third Third to his Second? I know people. If he’s planning on law school, maybe I could arrange some interviews for him to meet folks: the U.S. Attorney, a successful defense attorney, another small businessperson who’d gone on to law school. He’s in the middle of those now, and I’m trying to figure out more ways I can tap into my accumulation of years and experience to help him along his way.

I remember reading somewhere that the real reason Alcoholics Anonymous works is not because people GET support but that, as sponsors, they GIVE support. Finding that they have something to offer is a source of strength for the sponsor and that keeps them sober.

So this was my big discovery: being Derrick’s mentor is also mentoring me. You can’t sit down with someone who has so gloriously un-stuck himself without thinking, “What’s your own Big Idea?” Oh, I have one or two, but too many commitments were already in the way, my calendar filled up. They kept getting back-burnered. Not to mention they just seemed … too much, too complicated, too difficult.

But Derrick was selling his business, looking at law schools!

So I had to do something bold and new and adventurous, too. I’ll tell you more about that next post. The thing is, Derrick is leaping off a big cliff. I am stumbling off a little cliff. But I feel a little persistent stuck-ness has given way.

Here I’d set up all these mentorships for others, telling everyone it would be mutually rewarding, and here I am realizing IT’S TRUE. I may offer Derrick the benefits of my experience, but he’s adding inspiration, gung-ho energy, and a whole different view of the world. My world is richer.

What can I say? Go find someone to mentor. Make it official. Enjoy.

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