My husband and I were sitting in a doctor’s office and I happened to glance over at the TIME magazine he was reading. I have no clue what the article was about, but a statement caught my eye. I read it once, then a second time, and proceeded to think about it in the following days. It went something along the lines of, “Everyone who has ever been great has always had mentors in their life.”
What exactly is a mentor and why do they help make us great?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a mentor as a “trusted counselor or guide.” A mentor is a person that can be compared to a travel guide in a foreign country. Although the traveler could probably find their way without help, a travel guide knows the country like the back of their hand. They know the spots to avoid and the spots that are the best to visit. They have knowledge that the tourist does not have, including knowledge that may not be readily available to the public.
Mentors are the same way in life. We can find our way in life without them, but it’s more helpful to have someone in our life who has gone on before us and has a grasp on life that we haven’t obtained yet. They know pitfalls to avoid because they’ve “been there and done that.” There is a depth of knowledge that comes with the experience of life, and though we need to gain our own knowledge, it helps to have someone walking with us that already has it in hand.
A counselor is someone who listens and asks the questions that need asking. Sometimes they offer advice, but more than that, they usually steer us in the way we need to go simply by asking us questions that helps us figure out what it is we’re trying to figure out.
That is what a mentor does. They are our sounding board. We can run ideas off of them and get feedback on what is good and what isn’t so good. Mentors often ask questions about angles we haven’t thought of to our situation, sometimes showing us the danger of what we’re about to do, or giving us the confidence to keep on going.
Some of us do better when we have accountability partners. We can find these partners in our friends, but I have found that peers don’t last very long as accountability partners for the simple fact that they can’t keep up with their own goals and commitments without a struggle.
My best accountability partners have been older women who have maturity in the areas of discipline and self-control. Not only have they mastered these two areas of life, they also don’t forget to ask me how I’m doing, like friends my own age have as the busyness of life catches up with them.
Accountability can cover areas of life, such as how we’re doing as wives and mothers, to weight loss and exercise goals. We know what we need to do, and we want to do it. Sometimes we just need someone to help nudge us in the right direction ever so often. Mentors do that.
A good mentor isn’t afraid to confront us when they see us making unwise decisions. One of the best mentors I ever had, had no problems getting in my face when she saw things in my life that shouldn’t be there. Some days I would get super angry with her for it, but in the end I would always realize she had done me a huge favor in calling me on something. When I began to slip a bit in my eating disorder recovery, she was right there asking me what was going on. When the old comforting cloak of self-pity would start to become my identity again, she’d lovingly remind me that my life wasn’t as bad as it could be.
Mentors who truly love us have earned the right to be this person to us. They sometimes call us out on hard stuff, but they never do it because they think they’re right and we’re wrong. They do it because they love us and want the best for us. That is something that is absolutely invaluable to have in life — a person who is not afraid to help confront us in love.
Mentors are also cheerleaders. Not only to they advise and confront, they walk with us in life and encourage us to keep going during the hard times. They know our weaknesses but they focus on our strengths. They tell us about the growth they see in our lives and give words of encouragement that is a better motivator than criticism will ever be.
People who act as mentors help us bear our burdens. They care about us so much, their hearts ache when ours do and they help lighten our load when we’re overwhelmed. These are the women who come help take care of the kids because the baby’s incessant screaming has us on total edge. They are the women who feel our grief and sit with us in silence when we lose someone we love. Their arms offer us hugs when a friend has hurt us and the tissues are readily available for times when we’re crying but have no clue why.
Choosing a Mentor
Having a mentor is rare in today’s world. The first reason that comes to mind is most of us are too busy, myself included. As I was thinking about the mentor I used to have, I wondered how I got to a place where it had been five years since I last spoke with her. Life got in the way. I got married, I moved away, I had a baby. While all of that was happening, I lost my mentor. I began to live life without one.
Lately, as a mom to a young toddler who has been supporting her husband through tough times, I’ve really realized just what I’ve been missing to not have a mentor in my life anymore. Life getting in the way is a bad excuse for me to use. Instead, I have to say that life is so busy I can’t afford to not have a mentor these days! (I actually stopped this article mid-way through to email my old mentor and ask her if perhaps we could catch up with each other sometime in coming week.)
Second, we don’t have mentors because a good woman is hard to find. Seriously. They are. Women who know how to keep their mouths shut are an oddity. Women who know how to combine hard truth with gentle love are rare. They do exist, however.
How do we find them? We keep our eyes and ears open. If you attend a MOPS group or a church, there are women who are going to stand out, whether it’s their pleasant countenance or because you hear other women talking about how “so and so is such an encouragement to me.”
Sometimes mentors are right under our noses! Our best friend’s mom, an aunt of ours, our own mother (or mother-in-law even). Others of us have to look a little bit harder for a mentor and it might take some research to do so. Ask around. Ask your priest or pastor if he’s aware of a woman that might fill that role. You can also ask your girlfriends.
Mentors are out there waiting to be found. Finding them just takes a little bit of work sometimes. When you think you have found one, it feels a bit strange to come right out and ask, “Would you mentor me?” Once the question comes out of our mouth, though, the woman being asked usually lights up because she is honored you asked her and you find yourself being loved on almost immediately! Some of these women are just longing to make a difference in someone’s life and you asking them has given them an opportunity to do just that.
Be a mentor
It’s not enough to be mentored. We need to in turn pass on what we learn from our mentors. There are women younger than you out there, looking for a mentor. Be available! Let your religious leader know you’re interested in mentoring. See if your community has a mentoring program that you can get involved with. Become a Girl Scout leader or volunteer at school functions. There are countless ways to become a mentor.
When you do become a mentor, be the one you would want for yourself. Keep your mouth shut and conversations between you and your protege private. Be there for her but don’t hover and be controlling. Be straight up with her but always in love, and focus on her strengths more than her weaknesses. Be open and vulnerable, sharing your own heart and life lessons at times so that she can see you’ve been where she is now. You may not feel like you have the ability to be a mentor, but you do. Just think of what you would want in one and then be that person.
“To the world, you may just be somebody. But to somebody, you might just be the world.” ~Anonymous