Friday, June 12, 2015

What I Learned From the Mentoring Group I Didn't Want to Join

I received the invitation to be in a professional women's mentoring group at work. And I thought - "What a wonderful idea...for someone else."

Joining a mentoring program seemed like another "to do" on my pretty big list. I am a mom of a teenager. I work full time. We just finishing a cross-country move. I try to make time to write. And, occasionally, I clean house and cook.

And, as long as I can remember, I have been a reluctant joiner. I don't really appreciate being assigned to relationships one-on-one or in a group. I prefer to go it alone quite a bit, and (when I do connect to others) I've found that relationships are best that happen naturally.

But this invitation was different. It came from a former student and colleague who I greatly respect. She is kind and smart and thoughtful. She wanted to improve professional life and opportunities for women at our organization. How could I say no?

So, I said yes.

For the past months I have been mentoring, and frankly being mentored right back, by a wonderful woman named Eunice. She has been patient with my on-again-off-again Skype connections and my forgetfulness of what exactly we were talking about two weeks ago.

Even during our first conversation, I found myself relaxing. It became not "what can I teach her" but how can we - two women working for the same organization - grow together. We realized that we were both different - and yet the same.

She is from the Dominican Republic. I am from the United States.

She has two daughters. I have one.

She just had to unexpectedly put a new roof on her house. So did I. Same weekend!

She works in a left brain field (legal/accounting). I work in a right brain area (fundraising/writing).

She and I talked frankly about what we fear at work - confrontation, asking for what we want, facing office issues like gossip, and the future. I offered examples and advice from my 25 years of service at the same place. She gave me insights about how she views our organization as a newer employee.

It was wonderful.

Mentoring or the idea of mentoring can be intimidating. I tend to think of myself as someone who has not yet arrived. Surely I am not an expert. What do I have to offer? What if they expect me to know more than I do?

But once I set aside those fears and took the plunge, I learned a few significant things:

1) Connection is important. While we all have some friendly relationships at work, the desire to connect in a meaningful way is something most of us desire. It takes a regular investment of time to do this at the office. Too often women are balancing multiple responsibilities - in and out of work. Taking time to meet new women is frankly not a priority for many of us. Mentoring relationships make time for this.

2) You have more to offer than you realize. You don't have to "know" business or be an expert. If you've worked in any capacity for a number of years, you have gained experiences that will be helpful to someone else. Just as we will naturally share a recipe or household tip, sharing work advice becomes second nature. I found that once I quit fretting about what I was supposed to say, I had plenty to share.

3) Mentoring is about learning. As I talked to Eunice about my own past and listened to her own concerns and work situation, I found myself reflecting and processing my own work history. It helped me verbalize what I have learned in the past, and understand what I think today. As we shared, I grew.

I would encourage you - if you get the opportunity - to consider participating in a professional mentoring relationship with someone either ahead of you in the journey or following close behind.

The time commitment was less than I thought. We worked around each other's schedules, and I found myself looking forward to that prioritized twice-a-month conversation. For me, it also brought unexpected joy - and I know I will continue my friendship with Eunice in the future.

To build a great company of women, we need to take time - make time - to learn from and listen to one another.

Thanks, Kim Pickett, for your work to bring Envision to Moody Bible Institute.
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