The Value of a Mentor
January is National Mentoring Month. It’s the time of year our nation spotlights the importance of mentors and the need for every child to have a caring adult in his or her life. Dictionary.com defines the word mentor as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. To be a mentor, you don’t need special skills or a lifetime of experience; just the ability to offer friendship, guidance, encouragement and support. A mentor is a person with good character, wisdom to share, and of course a person you admire and strive to be like. Mentors offer young people an experienced friend who is there to help them in a variety of situations. The mentoring.org web site notes some of the values of mentoring as (1) improving a young person’s self-esteem, (2) providing support for new behaviors, (3) helping keep students in school, (4) helping young people learn how to relate well to all kinds of people and strengthening communication skills, and (5) helping set career goals and start taking steps to realize them.
We often think of mentors as role models in the workplace, but the mentor–protégé relationship exists in so many other areas of life. It’s the college professor who helps you pursue your career goals; the sports coach who helps you develop greater skills and the confidence to keep playing; the neighbor who listens to your concerns and guides you in making responsible choices; and the camp counselor who assists you in navigating through a summer of new experiences and greater independence. Choosing to be a mentor is accepting an important role in a young person’s life. Regardless of the setting, be it the workplace or a less formal setting of summer camp, mentors can have a profound impact by being leaders who are trustworthy, supportive and encouraging.
I know the value of a good mentor because I was lucky enough to have two of them. The first was Marylou… my camp counselor when I was 12 years old. Marylou was funny, kind, honest, and was always there to listen. She had a willingness to share and be open, was a great role model and friend, and was admired by all the girls in the group. Aside from the activities she encouraged us to participate in, and confidence she instilled in us, she set a strong example when it came to developing friendships and navigating our way through the days at camp. And though it has been over 30 years, I can still see her face and remember what a great counselor (and mentor) she was. And then there was George…my internship supervisor in graduate school. George was a remarkable man and teacher who helped me develop the skills I needed to be an effective school counselor and the wisdom to listen and guide people to live happier lives. My favorite part of the day was sitting down with George and (what he referred to as) “chatting”. I learned so much from our chats and George never forgot to tell me how much he learned from me in return. I am truly thankful for the mentors that helped shape my life, and I only hope that everyone has a mentor in their lives that they can think of in such a positive light.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction”. John Crosby