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Mentoring: Can You Do It?

Actually, I could end the article right here because "YES YOU CAN" says it all.

Mentoring, in most cases, is not for the faint of heart because of the varied situations that you can encounter during that relationship. And yes it is a relationship, because unlike coaching or consultancy, mentoring is a more involved process and can become a life long experience. I would dare to say it's for the open-hearted person who has an innate passion for helping others and giving back. Not to mention that it's a beautiful experience when you see the impact you have had on someone and the impact it has had on you, the mentor, as well.

So, if ever you are asked to be a mentor, your answer should be yes. I can't speak for anyone else, but mentoring for me is definitely a scary process. What if I'm not doing it right, what if I'm telling them rubbish, what if I'm not smart enough, what if, what if, what if. But you'll never know unless you open yourself up to the possibility that you have that innate capacity to help, to teach and learn from that teaching, to push the bar a little bit higher each time and to be of greater service to others than to yourself.

'If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!' ~ Richard Branson

When a friend of mine asked me to volunteer as a mentor for a business venture competition my first response was NO, I can't do that. She asked why not? I said I didn't know anything about mentoring people for a business competition. She reminded me that I'd run a business before and managed departments within corporate. So what, those things are different I said. Then she gently reminded me that I too had entered this very competition, albeit that was donkey's ages ago when we had no mentors and the landscape was vastly different. Anyway, I left it at that having not committed to doing it. A few weeks later I received an email from the coordinator thanking me for offering to volunteer. I sat staring blankly at the computer screen and said, 'I'm gonna kill that girl.'

That night I slept on it while having mini nightmares. The next day Richard Branson's quote came back to mind and I said, 'oh well, here goes' and responded to the email. Side note - everyone I spoke to encouraged me saying how good an experience this would be and that I am more than capable of doing it. Apparently I, Deon Cecile, was the only one having panic attacks about how badly I would do.

Mentor Meets Mentees

I recall the first meeting where Mentors would be assigned their Mentees. I sat in-front of a set of students who were giggly and fidgety most of the time. I remember thinking, "Lord please don't let these kids be assigned to me as they don't seem mature enough and I'm not sure I can handle that." YEAH YEAH, I know that sounds bad, but I am allowed to think like that sometimes. But you all should know that the Lord has an extreme sense of humor when He's ready. He always does and always seems to give me the things I say I don't want...hmmm...maybe I should say I don't want to be filthy rich....hmmmm....just a thought. Anyway, I think you all know what happened next, RIGHT? Yup, The Lord, decided to laugh at me and assigned me the very same giggly, fresh out of high school, students.

Panic, anxiety, fear, trepidation, excitement, prayer and supplication all manifested themselves in an instant. Before meeting with them I offered up a prayer, though by this time I do believe the Lord was having a belly laugh at my expense. Then I said to myself, "ok Deon Cecile, time to put on dem big girl panties, it's showtime.'

In my first meeting with them, I 'dragged' along a friend of mine to help me flesh out the idea and to keep me sane during the process. At the end of that meeting I told them their idea wasn't gonna work and they needed to "wheel and come again." And boy did they. The next few months was everything I never could have expected or imagined. I embraced it with all I had and all that I borrowed from the friends I took along for the ride. It was such a wonderful experience. My mentees submission was accepted and they were invited to present in round 1. They were then selected to present in round 2 where I got to sit, like a proud mama bear, and watch my babies present. Unfortunately, they were not selected in the top 3 who would now advance to Nationals and potentially International. But, I am super proud of their achievements and what they were able to achieve in such a short space of time, especially after I shot down their 1st idea, scared the holy crap out of them and had them pivot on many occasions. They still have a very viable project, which would require a huge capital investment and expertise that they don't currently possess. However, the sky is still the limit for them and their plans if they do decide to go ahead in the future; which I strongly encourage them to do.

Here are a few things I learned on this mentoring journey.

  1. Self Improvement. It made me pull on strengths I never knew I had and ones I had but was fearful of using. The fact is I had to be on top of my game, as much as possible, thereby forcing myself to improve my skills and knowledge.

  2. Knowledge enrichment. I learned about a whole new industry and the possibilities that exist. Not only through the involvement with my team, but having listened to the presentation of other teams. New perspective and ideas.

  3. How to ask for help. This experience taught me how to ask for help, shamelessly. As a mentor your job is not only to impart your knowledge, but also to acknowledge your shortcomings and seek help, by whatever means necessary, irrespective of your own feelings.

  4. Asset value increase. Having learned so much from this experience I am now an even more valuable asset; to my company, to my personal and professional counterparts and most importantly, to myself.

  5. Willful excitement. I've learned that the 'giggle-ness' and youthful excitement displayed by my mentees, which I was worried about in the beginning, is something we all need in our lives.

  6. Building a legacy. Mentoring is a form of teaching. Teaching doesn't have to be in a class room setting, most of us do it from day to day without even knowing that's what we're doing . In the end, you challenge yourself and your mentees to think differently, you both end up growing and you leave an indelible mark that transcends for years to come.

  7. Satisfaction. You know that feeling you get that puts a different kind of smile on your face when you help someone and make a difference. Yup that. Pure unfiltered satisfaction.

At the end of it all, no matter how small or large the task of mentoring may seem, it is important that we all get involved and pay it forward. We all have more to give and are capable of so much more than we let ourselves believe sometimes.

#mentoringmatters #payitforward


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