Why We Could All Use a Mentor
Many of us have had mentors throughout our lives who have seriously impacted the choices we’ve made and the paths we’ve taken. Some of us might have had many influential mentors, and some may never have had one. Regardless of your stage of life, searching for a mentor can be extremely beneficial.
Grotto’s social media manager Adrienne talked to Michaela Robinson, who has been a campus minister for five years. She served with FOCUS, a Catholic collegiate outreach, for three years as a missionary at The University of Connecticut and Universitȁt Passau in Germany and is currently in her second year as a full-time campus minister at George Mason University. We asked her some questions about mentorship based on her experiences both being mentored and being a mentor to students.
Adrienne Garalde: Can you tell us who was one of the most impactful mentors in your life and why?
Michaela Robinson: She was a couple of years older than me, and it was a really powerful and positive first experience of mentorship because she was not only a few steps ahead of me in age or even just professionally, but she was a few years down the road of the life I wanted to live. So I just got to ask her, “How did you get to where you are now?” She was able to walk with me down the path of life that I was pursuing actively.
She could speak into my life in ways that somebody who is living in a totally different world wouldn’t be able to, and I think one really important thing is that she was also not in my everyday life. We didn’t serve in the same area, and we did not have the exact same roles on our campuses. So she was able to speak objectively about things that were going on. She wasn’t too involved with my personal life, so she could come in as an outside figure and just really helped me see things from a different perspective.
AG: Between your time in FOCUS and as a full-time campus minister, I’m sure you have got to mentor many students. What has that experience of mentoring students through their successes and failures been like for you?
MR: I think that is the greatest honor that I get to have in these students’ lives, and I take this responsibility pretty seriously because I know that I’m a mentor for them, whether or not they know that that’s exactly what they’re experiencing with me.
There’s this twofold way that I view it. One is there’s active mentorship, but then there’s also passive mentorship happening here. There are students that I meet with on a regular basis, and there’s the active mentorship that I’m talking about where they come to me — whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, once a month — and share with me what’s going on, what they’re struggling with, what they’re aiming for. I’m able to, similarly to my own experience, speak objectively and carefully — but lovingly and boldly — into their lives. I think because I’m not a peer to them, and I’m not just like an older sister, I’m not just like an older friend, but I’m somebody in their life who has a concrete role as campus minister, as a missionary, whatever. They come to me expecting there to be a certain honesty, clarity, and challenge in what I share with them. They don’t come to me if they’re not looking for advice, because they know that that’s what they’re going to get.
I’m also aware that there’s this passive experience of mentorship in my job, where I’m being watched and people are absorbing my example whether or not I’m doing it on purpose. They’re looking at how I live my life as a woman, as a Christian, as a wife, as a professional, all these things. I think that can sometimes feel like an unfair burden, but for me, I’ve accepted it as a real privilege in my role here.
AG: From your experience as someone who’s been mentored and someone who gets to mentor people, where can mentorship be most beneficial in a person’s life?
MR: We need examples of people who are living the life that we hope to be living at some point down the road.
Professionally, for example, we don’t know how to make that shift from casual college culture to professional work life just automatically. It’s something that has to be taught. We have to learn the lingo, we have to learn the tactics for how to negotiate, how to impress your colleagues, and how to make sure that you’re moving forward. Those things are not built in knowledge, and they’re not taught in the college classroom. So it’s really important to have somebody who can pull back the curtain of this world, this whole new world, and teach you what they know.
We all need that personalized help and guidance on how to be the best version of ourselves at home or at work, because those are our lifelong experiences. So if we’re struggling in the beginning, odds are we’ll be struggling in the end if we never seek help.
AG: Do you believe mentorship is essential for everyone?
MR: Yes, I do. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you’ll fail in life if you don’t have a mentor. There are plenty of ways these days to learn and grow, but I do think we are best set up for success in these particular areas of our life when we do have somebody helping us along, modeling what that looks like and doing so explicitly.
I think our culture has gotten very individualistic, very “fake it till you make it,” “you’ll figure it out in time,” or “just try harder.” All of those messages that tell us that we need to have this all figured out on our own. That’s just an undue burden on what is already a difficult task, which is to love and to serve other people and to live a healthy life.
I think without mentorship, we’re more likely to find ourselves feeling alone or insecure in whatever role it is we’re living out, and we were created to have a village around us. That’s just not the case anymore. I think mentorship is a great way to intentionally pick the people in your village, in your corner who are going to be there for you when things get difficult, who are going to be there for you when things are really great and you don’t really know what to do with it. Seasons change or transitions happen. I just think we rely on ourselves more than is actually necessary. So I don’t think anybody falls outside of that. But that being said, I do think mentorship is not a make-or-break, do-or-die type of thing, but it is something we would all benefit from.
AG: What is some advice you might have for those people who are struggling or not sure how to find a good mentor?
MR: I think it’s a little less complicated than we make it out to be. You touched on something important, I think sometimes when there’s people close in your life, you kind of write them off as an option, but I actually think that’s a great place to start to look for people we admire. It’s as simple as that. Who is already doing the thing that I’m entering into, or that I hope to do in the future, and whose style do I admire? Who’s doing this the way I would hope to do it?
It does take some humility, but it also takes confidence to go up to someone and be like, “Hey, I admire your work. I admire your virtue, and I would really love to learn how to be more that way, or how to thrive in my career or my vocation the way I see you doing.” That might be an intimidating question or conversation, but for the person on the receiving end, that’s a very flattering thing.
That being said, if you find yourself in a drought of people that you admire or you find yourself struggling with the people in your space and you need an outside perspective, that’s when wider community networking is important. That can look a couple different ways, right? Going on LinkedIn and looking at people in your area or in your company further up or in similar fields or whatever, or just simply asking around or being open to meeting new people. There’s a lot of people in our journey of life. Sometimes it just takes some intentional praying and thinking about who are the people that were impactful to me — that was probably for a reason.
AG: What qualities should you be able to see in yourself to be confident enough to be a mentor?
MR: I think being realistic and knowing who you are and who you’re not, that goes a long way. It’s tempting to want to be all things to all people in every area of our lives, and that’s just not possible. I’ve definitely done that before, where somebody wanted me to walk with them in a certain way that I actually wasn’t equipped to do. It ends up just being difficult for both parties. Knowing what it is you are good at, what it is you do intentionally in your life, what it is that you’re so aware of, that it’s repeatable and teachable. Those are the things that not only you can pass down, but that you’re actually being called to share with other people.
Those are the gifts that you’re being asked to share with the world. What are my God-given gifts and talents, and how can I reasonably and effectively share this with the world? You’re not given every gift, and that’s okay. Not feeling pressured to be somebody that you’re not can really protect you and the person you’re mentoring from having a bad experience. So yeah, I don’t recommend becoming a mentor until you first know who God has called you to be in your own life. If you’re still trying to figure out what the heck your calling is, your talents are, your gifts are, I think that’s step number one.
AG: Any last thoughts about mentorship?
MR: If this is something you desire, but it doesn’t yet make sense who you’re called to walk with, or if it’s something you desire to do in other people’s lives, the best thing you can do is just ask the Lord to provide those people in your life. Whether that’s a mentor or mentees, begin the work to become the best version of yourself and watch who he brings to help you along, or watch who he puts in your life to help guide you. He wants this for you too, and so asking him is the best first step to realizing this in your real life.