I truly believe in the expression “to whom much is given, much is required.” This weekend, I had the honor and privilege to serve as a professional mentor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Chance Program hosted their 1st annual women’s day conference entitled “I AM…WOMAN!” The conference was in honor of women’s history month and there was an amazing collection of women operating at speakers and mentors for the female college students. In my life, I’ve had great professional success and I have many mentors to thank for that. I’ve had mentors purchase business suits for me when I couldn’t afford them. Every time I’ve needed a job, my network of mentors has pointed me in the right direction. And when I need professional help, I turn to my mentors for great advice. I love having mentors and I also love being a mentor.
A mentor’s job is to advice, support, and direct and I was thrilled to meet all the wonderful students who attended the conference and see how I could help them. One young lady I met had recently graduated and her goal was to work abroad in two years. She was currently working at a small, local college to save money and pay down her debt. I’m a firm believer in traveling abroad and getting started on your dreams ASAP. I asked her if she had considered going to the Peace Corps or a Language Corps which would allow her to accomplish her two goals of working abroad while paying down her debt. She told me she didn’t want to teach English as a second language. I asked her what she wanted to do while she was abroad. She said she received her degree in anthropology and she wanted to teach people cultural lessons. I pointed out to her that in order to teach her cultural lessons, she may have to start by teaching English as a second language and learning about culture is apart of learning language. I advised her to do some research on the subject and to try to go abroad this year. Don’t wait for two years. She was apprehensive about going so soon, but didn’t have good reason. The point of my dialogue with her was to show her ways to achieve her dream and to push her to start as soon as possible. That’s the point of a mentor; to challenge you to be better and show you how to accomplish your goals.
Another young lady I met was in high school even though the conference was for college students. I applauded her initiative for coming and being ahead of the game. I asked her what her goal were. She told me her goal was to get a job in retail. I asked what she’d done to secure a retail job. She told me she turned an online application and was waiting for a response. I advised her to go into the store and have a face-to-face conversation with the manager. There are many people turning in online applications so she needed to make herself stand out. She thought that was a great idea. In probing further, I asked if she wanted to be in the fashion industry. She replied that she wants to be a scientist. I advised her that retail jobs are not all they’re cracked up to be. The pay is low, you’re standing on your feet all day, and customers can be very rude and annoying. I advised her to look for a job in her field. I asked if she’d previously worked as a scientist. She told me she’d had several science internships throughout high school. (This girl is ahead of the curve.) I advised her to call some of the people she previously worked with and see if they had or knew about any science-related, paid internships she could apply for. If she wants to be a scientist, then she needs to start working as a scientist and not as a store clerk. It just so happens I had just received an e-mail about paid internships in her field. I showed her the e-mail and forwarded it to her. That’s the point of a mentor; to help you make connections.
I met many wonderful women and sincerely offered to help them. I gave them my phone number and e-mail address and told them to call me. I even offered to buy them lunch. One young lady already called me yesterday which makes me very happy. The fortune is in the follow-up. When you find someone who offers to be your mentor, pick their brain, take their advice, and make sure you follow up. When you find someone who wants to be your mentee, asks what their goals are, challenge them to reach for the stars, and help them make it happen. Everyone should always be a mentor AND a mentee. For as you give, you will receive. I am my sister’s keeper.