Mentoring Is A Two Way Street


My 17-year-old stepson walked onto the plane and out of my life. He was on his way to California and college-back to his mother to pick up life where they'd dropped it nine years ago. For seven of those years I had helped his father nurture and counsel him. Together we'd molded his spiritual and secular education, meeting out doses of encouragement, criticism, reality and common sense along the way.

"It's a simple exercise. It never fails."

I had served as mentor and mother, much like Mentor of mythical times had served the son of Odysseus during the Trojan War. And many a day I had called on the gods for guidance.

There are few things more awesome than the responsibility of guiding the young. They are so innocent, so vulnerable, so eager to please and anxious to learn. They serve their hopes and dreams on an otherwise empty platter and look to those of us who have "made it" to help them choose the next course.

So many of us spend a lifetime looking for someone to tell us the secret, unlock the door, show us the way. Then we don't recognize the truth when we hear it, rush through the wrong door or wait for someone else to blaze a path only one was meant to travel.

I was taught you have to know who you are before you can figure out where you're going. So, before counseling those who ask (I avoid giving unsolicited advice), I usually spend time discussing strengths and weaknesses, which inevitably leads to discovery and options.

It's a simple exercise. It never fails. It takes the onus off the mentor and puts responsibility where it belongs, on the one who seeks to succeed.

It teaches, simply, that no one is responsible for your success or failure except you. You will not fail because you are black, female, disabled, poor, illiterate or different. You will not be denied success because of your accent or religion, sexual orientation or lifestyle. It is only when you truly believe you can be anything you want to be, and act on that belief, that you are ready for a mentor.

How do you find a mentor? You don't. A mentor finds you. A mentor decides to take the time and expend the effort because you show promise. Your attitude and demeanor give you away. You stand out from the crowd. There's something special about you. You seem anointed with curiosity and desire. "Take full responsibiity for the circumstances and turn it into a positive learning experience."And it doesn't matter if you're an orphan or a prince, someone will stop and take notice and your life will take on purpose.

When you acquire a mentor be gracious. Don't wear out your benefactor. Don't call early Monday morning or late Friday evening. As a matter of routine, don't call, write. Make sure you have something positive to report. You'll be rewarded with yet another opportunity to succeed. If you suffer a setback, figure out what went wrong. Take full responsibiity for the circumstances and turn it into a positive learning experience. Share what you've learned with your mentor and move on.

Never look a gift mentor in the mouth. Who says your mentor has to be just like you? One of my mentors is a white woman from South Africa. Notice I said "one" of my mentors. Nowhere is it written you can't have more than one.

Usually the most important thing to happen after you acquire a mentor is you too become a mentor. It's like a chain letter of life. To grow and prosper, you too must share with others.

You must encourage, promote, counsel and nurture, lest you lose sight of your purpose. So often, words I hear coming from my own mouth speak to my own needs.

I've been very fortunate in my lifetime. I've had so many mentors. My elementary school principal refused to let me go the vocational route and guided me toward a high school English teacher who encouraged me to write. My father, who is an artist, defined the true meaning of beauty. My mother was his model and mine. My grandmother stood for truth and honesty and God-fearing ways. They all paved the way to discernment and loyal friendships and one special companion.

But I wouldn't trade anything for the experience of the last seven years. It was my privilege to counsel a young African-American male. It was my pleasure to help him discover his potential. It brought me joy to watch him mentor others, including me. I am a wiser mentor because of our time together.


©2012 Tracey E. Carruthers
Note: Tracey E. Carruthers is an executive coach and founder of may "reprint" copies of Clues You Can Use Articles on-line as long as they remain complete and unaltered including this note. Please send links to your reprints below.

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