Meant to Mentor

“People are like chains, the closer they are, the stronger they become.”  – Federico Chini, The Sea Of Forgotten Memories

It’s hard to believe, but I realized this week that I’ve now known one of my dearest friends for a full decade. We met in an entirely different stage of life- ten years ago, we were both homeschooling our children, and we got together frequently on their behalf. (If you choose to homeschool young children, the bylaws do require this, because the number one, wide-eyed query you must always be prepared to answer is “But how will you socialize the children?”)

It’s a little bittersweet, but I find that I’m really enjoying the fact that we’ve now moved into a phase that allows us to connect just for us. Oh, sure, sometimes we’ll invite the kids along to hang out if they’d like, but many (most) times now, we don’t. They’re high school and college age, and they can do that for themselves.

Last week, during one of these visits, we were talking about the concept of mentoring, and I mentioned I’d done some reading on the topic and recalled some imagery about holding hands across generations. “The premise”, I assured her, “was really neat. Something about having two hands, one to reach forward to the generations ahead of you, and one to reach back to those coming behind. I’ll find the quote and send it to you.”

Well, I’m a liar. I’ve now been scouring the internet for a week, looking for mention of this concept… and can find no trace of it. I’ve discovered suggestions of the idea in a few different places, but I am beginning to suspect that I’ve absorbed several things and then created a mashup of the concepts in my own head. It does sound like something I’d do.

This quote could be part of it… there’s that reference to hands, and I do love the philosophy:

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” ― Sam Levenson, In One Era & Out the Other

There’s also quite a bit of data on successful people “reaching back to pull forward” a younger colleague in the workplace. That’s also sort of close; it certainly touches firmly on the idea of mentoring. (Pro tip: Google “reaching back to pull forward” and you’ll also find some really helpful articles on the best way to stretch, if you’re in need of something like that.)

All of this is valuable, but none of it precisely mirrors the concept of mentoring that I was thinking of- because it positions only our elders as educators. In my mind, mentoring works in all directions; we can learn lessons from people who are the same age, younger, or older. Wisdom comes in many forms and isn’t bound by age as a qualifier.

I find an element of mentoring most especially in female relationships, and think of them in terms of chains; each one of us provides a link, one to the next, and those bonds become an unbreakable force for good in our lives. Each link is a woman who teaches us, encourages us, and offers relentless love in the face of our frailties.

It goes without saying that some of my mentors are women my own age- I love and value them for our commonalities, and often follow their lead because they’re right there in the trenches, fighting the same battles and going through similar experiences in real time. Their advice and humor have gotten me through many a difficult day and help me be better in a hard moment than I might have been otherwise.

Younger women provide a fresh pair of eyes in every situation- and let me know when I am stuck in a rut that stifles the growth I want in myself. I adore their enthusiasm and am delighted by the things they can teach me. In fact, some of my favorite lessons in recent years have come from a much younger friend- we had drastically different childhoods, and she has learned (and taught me) to do things I might never have attempted.

Women that are a few (or many) steps ahead of me in life are absolutely invaluable mentors because they’ve already experienced the stage I’m in and can provide perspective. These are the people that can say with authority that no, the world is not about to end, you’re definitely not going to break, and situations that feel impossible don’t last forever. (They also lead by example, if you’re smart enough to pay attention and take notes.) Sooner than you think, you’ll be repeating the advice they’re giving you now, with full knowledge of its practical applications.

I often hear from women that they long for a mentor, someone to guide them on this journey of life. Now consider that the literal definition of a mentor is this: an experienced and trusted adviser.

Take a look around; we form the closest connections with people we trust, respect and admire.

They are your mentors. And you are theirs.

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