World Archeology. Aztec Culture. Sociology of Deviance. These are just some of the undergraduate classes I was excited to signup for on the advice of my friend’s dad, who happened to be the dean of the business school at the time. Let me explain.
The Wide Road
I was an incoming freshman with an interest in finance. I figured who better to give me the inside track on the best classes than the business school dean. His answer surprised me, and rightfully changed my view of education going forward.
I’m paraphrasing, but it was essentially, “Mark, you’re fortunate to be attending a world-renown University [of Illinois], now’s your chance to get a broad education and take classes that interest you. That’s the well-rounded, educated person I would want to hire!”
And he’s right. Looking back on my work and educational paths, I’ve never been the “silver-spoon candidate” as human resources expert Regina Hartley refers to them in her TED Talk. These “ideal” job prospects have all the traditional markings of a qualified candidate: Ivy-league educated, 4.0 GPA, and a flawless resume. Instead, I’m the “scrapper,” as she calls them.
A Winding Path
Like the multi-disciplined path of my education, my employment experiences were full of opportunities to learn about the world and work with and for a variety of people. I’ve worked in restaurants, bars, retail, and corporate. I’ve taught golf to kids and picked orders in a software distribution warehouse, and much more. In law, I’ve investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and defended violations from littering to murder-for-hire. I was your consummate “general practitioner” attorney by design. My path has been a winding one.
Our successes and failures, challenges and defeats shape how we approach work and life today. How we solve problems or evaluate options to meet a goal. In mentorship, these are all experiences worthy of sharing to gain understanding and wisdom. Not measured in time, rather in encounters, by mentors and mentees.
2020 brought us moments of uncertainty and fear. Many did not know where to turn, whether to just start over or how even to begin finding a path. Some reached out, while too many withdrew. In times of such anxiety and unknown, mentoring can bring social support, and that includes providing help as much as receiving it.
Mentorship provides a unique construct for you to share your triumphs, struggles, and lessons with each other. You both bring incidents of hardship and adversity during your journeys. Some lessons may be found close to the surface like shining nuggets, while others necessitate further digging and assessment to uncover what is buried under hard rock and hidden in amongst the mud. These may take longer to reveal themselves, and that is okay.
The value realized in your mentoring relationship may best be revealed when you are truly able to empathize with where they’ve been. As Hartley puts it, “They don’t think they are who they are in spite of adversity, they know they are who they are because of adversity.”
Upon a foundation of trust, we can share our thoughts, our goals, and our sometimes our fears. We can partner in mentorship to continue the journey together, making investments in each other’s success built on the diversity of our experiences. When we mine those experiences, we will find gems of inspiration, making the relationship worth its weight in gold.
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