“Do you want to be my mentor?”
I received this text from a high schooler I had interacted with when I helped with a summer academic program at my university. My eyebrows furrowed. We had gotten along really well for the little time that we knew each other, but did I want to be her mentor?
I didn’t even know what being a mentor would look like. Would we have to set up specific dates and times when we’d have to meet with each other? Would she write up her life goals to which I’d offer feedback? Would this be a career mentorship where I’d offer advice on her next steps, or a general life mentorship where I’d offer advice on friends and dating? Would I even be able to mentor her when I was still trying to figure out life, myself?
With these questions swarming around in my mind, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to be a mentor. But I did know that I had a hard time navigating high school and college and that I didn’t want her to have the same struggles as I did. So I said “yes” and decided we’d both have to figure it out as we went.
It has been four years since she asked me to mentor her, and we have finally come to the conclusion that mentorship can be as unique as each individual. There are no set guidelines for serving as a mentor. What matters is my intent and my mentee’s growth. What matters is that she has someone to go to when she doesn’t know how to apply for FAFSA or how to resolve an argument with her close friend. What matters is that she can have someone to look up to and someone to hang out with when she feels alone. What matters is that I can teach her life lessons before she is forced to learn them the hard way.
I learned that you can be a mentor at any stage of your life as long as you believe that you have been through situations that have helped you mature. You’ve gathered valuable insight from experiences that people younger than you — and possibly even older than you — have not been through yet. Why not share it and be a voice that guides them along the way?
This may look different for everyone. Some people may want to be mentored specifically about their career path or how to heal from trauma. Some people may want to be mentored about adulting or spiritual growth. Some people, like my mentee, may not know what they want from the mentorship, but they recognize the importance of seeking guidance. No matter the reason, mentoring could be the answer to someone’s cry for help. Even if you don’t know where to begin, the best thing to do is to simply offer yourself as a resource — you’ll figure it out as you go.
For me, the hardest part came after agreeing to connect with her because I didn’t know what my mentee expected of me or the best way to communicate. Though it took time to figure out what worked best for us, my mentee and I decided we didn’t need a scheduled routine for when we should catch up or meet for coffee. We preferred reaching out to each other periodically to make sure all is well and to keep the relationship strong.
For others, however, mentorship may work better with a scheduled monthly call to discuss how their mentees have progressed in reaching their goals, or daily texts to encourage them on their journeys. I have learned in my four years of mentoring (and being mentored myself) that sometimes it is okay to not have a set plan in place as long as communication remains strong and your mentee continues to grow.
Mentorship can be as simple or complex as you make it, but the essence of helping someone in this way is maintaining your relationship and attending to a process of growth for them. Needless to say, it is not easy.
Even still, being a mentor has opened my eyes to see more clearly what really matters. It has shifted my priorities from focusing so much on myself to focusing more on helping others, which has brought me both more humility and more joy.
So if you’re up for the challenge and want to offer a helping hand to someone — whether a young teenager you have known since their preschool years, a college student you connected with through an alumni network, or your little sister — start by being open, reaching out, and letting them know that you are eager to help in any way that you can. If you look around, it is not hard to find people who are going through a stage of life that you recently experienced. If you wish you would have had someone there to help you navigate it, God might be calling you to offer your experience and insights to someone who is walking in your shoes.
Or, you can be like me and just wait for an opportunity to say “yes.”