Most people think of mentoring as a one-way stream, with the mentor as the older, wiser person sharing knowledge to a younger colleague or a student.
It is usually believed that the mentor has nothing to learn from the mentee. This is a myth.
The truth is that mentees often enrich their mentor’s life in a myriad of ways. Mentors do themselves and their mentees a disservice by not being receptive to their potential contributions.
I have had the opportunity to have several formal and informal mentees that have enhanced my understanding of life, opened me to new perspectives, and taught me valuable tools.
I was recently talking with a mentee that is going through a rough time professionally. Sharing my past experiences helped her to feel less upset about her situation but it also provided me an opportunity to channel my past hurt and frustration in a meaningful way.
I thought that I was completely healed from those past experiences, but I realized that I hadn’t fully let go of my own feelings of failure. Sharing my testimony allowed those residual feelings to be healed and helped her to refocus her energy in a positive direction.
Another time I once had a bright, quirky student with amazing self-esteem that was having some difficulties fitting into a student organization that she trying to join. We had some amazing conversations about how to balance authenticity with fitting in and the difference between professional and personal relationships.
We all want to be seen and accepted for who we are, but not everyone needs to know everything about us. As someone who sometimes struggles with being too transparent with my thoughts and feelings, our conversations helped me to work on firming up my own boundaries. My interpersonal relationships have improved as I learned to edit what I share.
One of my former student assistants is the most career-focused person I know. We shared a variety of materials on networking, interviewing and professionalism. We attended career-focused events and had long talks about overcoming introvertism, using LinkedIn to network, and how to cope with a minority in your workplace.
Participating in the UCF Forum also has been an exercise to help me stop hiding in the background. Like many introverts, I tend to shy away from the spotlight. My mentee has helped to me to find different ways of networking and tips to make it easier. She also reminded me that I need to find ways to spend more time following my passion for diversity and inclusion.
These are just a few stories of the mentees that I’ve had and the ways they’ve helped me grow.
If you’re not already a mentor, I suggest becoming one. The life you enrich just might be your own.
Anjella Warnshuis is the coordinator of administrative services for the University of Central Florida’s Department of Political Science. She can be reached at Anjella.Warnshuis@ucf.edu.
The UCF Forum is a weekly series of opinion columns from faculty, staff and students who serve on a panel for a year. A new column is posted each Wednesday on UCF Today and then broadcast on WUCF-FM (89.9) between 7:50 and 8 a.m. Sunday. Opinions expressed are those of the columnists, and are not necessarily shared by the University of Central Florida.