While most kids might view the end of high school as the ideal time to pause, to reflect, and to take stock, for me, graduation marked the beginning of my role as a director for the small business where I had a part time job.
Now, if you’re remembering yourself at age 18 you might be thinking, “yikes, scary!” But, while I was a little daunted at being given so much responsibility at such a young age, I knew I could pull it off…
…all thanks to great mentorship.
I’d started working as a swim instructor with this business a couple of years earlier, having landed the job largely because my brother and best friend already worked there (social capital already in the works at age 16…how’s that for a privilege check?).
To begin with I picked up a few weeknight and weekend shifts, gradually gaining more responsibility as time went on; by the time graduation rolled around, morphing from part-time worker to department director felt more like a natural transition than a huge leap.
Because, while I did harbor plenty of doubts about my ability to fulfill my role as director, I absolutely knew that my boss had my back.
She was also a young female who had grown into her position — as such she was ideally placed to safely guard my tenacity, to build my confidence, to challenge my approach, and to champion my development.
With her support, not only did I have the confidence to grab the opportunity with both hands, I learned just how important it was to pay it forward when it comes to mentorship and I felt compelled to transfer this support to my team.
Mentorship: uncovering a world of possibility.
At this time I was also a full-time student at WSUV. Working full-time while studying was tricky; I didn’t always feel connected to my college experience. Classes had to be scheduled around work hours and in the rush from work to class there was little time left to engage in campus life.
Despite this (or perhaps because of it…I’m not sure!), I was lucky enough to spark the attention of one of my professors and was offered an internship at the university. Feeling overwhelmed, yet flattered, I jumped at the chance. I imagined that this opportunity would open many more doors and I wasn’t wrong.
Under my professor’s mentorship I found myself considering grad school — something that had always sounded intriguing but not necessarily feasible. But this mentorship had shaken my identity. Instead of dismissing the idea of grad school, because of my background, because of the financial challenges it would present, or because it would be too hard to continue working full-time to pay for my education, I figured out a way.
Again, all thanks to the fact that I knew I had someone in my corner, someone to listen to my challenges, and to help me uncover practical solutions.
Paying it forward.
But, once again, I was struck by the fact that mentorship has an inevitable duality: it isn’t, and should never be, a one-way street.
With every new opportunity given to me by my awesome mentors, I became increasingly aware of the possibilities of employing my passion for connecting with and empowering others.
Six years into my first job, and in the midst of grad school, my lens began to broaden. My priorities began to shift and my intentions narrowed in on social services. Yes, folks, I wanted to change the world! Or at least change the world for the people around me…😊
This is where I found myself becoming even more passionate about mentoring staff than managing a program. Listening to their stories, ensuring safe space, encouraging them to be bold, and advocating for their success became my why.
But, unsurprisingly, I knew I couldn’t do it alone (yes, it’s that mentorship duality kicking in yet again!) While enrolled in grad school, I found the friendship of a classmate that developed into mentorship. This friendtor (friend/mentor) encouraged me to apply for a position at her work, a local social service agency.
In this new position, I knew I’d be able to use my skills to work with people and develop my own mentorship abilities.
It wasn’t easy. I was still only 22, had grad school classes to finish, and was embarking on a whole new career. Without the help of several different mentors, I’m not sure I would have made it. I relied heavily on them; at times I felt I was choking on a bite I knew was too big. I needed my mentors there to pat my back until it went down, to help me breathe again.
And yes, those pats were heavy-handed at times. It wasn’t always easy to accept them, to accept the advice but at its very core that’s what mentorship is about — it’s about giving and receiving the difficult advice, about challenging and being challenged, about learning to embrace the uncomfortable.
My mentors would consistently ensure my safety, raise valid concerns, listen to my thoughts and point me towards paths I couldn’t always see clearly. I had to rely on their mapping and they didn’t let me down.
The mentorship mirror.
And it was the quality of this mentorship that allowed me to provide the same support to the staff, youth, and clients under my own mentorship. The advice, the confidence, and the million different strategies I’ve been taught have rippled down and are now influencing and improving the lives of those I’m fortunate enough to mentor.
Without a doubt, my success as a mentor is a direct reflection of the success of those who mentored me, and I’m incredibly grateful to each and everyone who has supported me over the years.
This understanding of the mentorship ripple effect has left me more passionate than ever about our ability to impact lives. I have had the pleasure of mentoring youth and young adults throughout this community in both professional and personal capacities, as well as serving as a Project Mentor with Leadership Clark County.
As I enjoy new employment opportunities, personal growth wins, as well as ongoing professional development, I’m more convinced than ever of the power of this mentorship ripple effect and its necessity no matter how old we are, where we are in our careers, or what our job title might be.
Whoever we are and whatever we hope to achieve, mentorship, whether we’re offering it, receiving it, or ideally a mix of both, is about seeking unapologetic authentic relationships that challenge us to grow into our best selves. So my question for you is: how are you mentoring and seeking mentorship?
Final thoughts for those offering or seeking mentorship:
- Listen to understand; you’ll learn a lot.
- Create safe space to build trust.
- Look outside of your tribe — some of the greatest mentors are people you may not initially have identified as friends.
- Be open to paths you may not see and trust your mentor’s mapping.
- Remember that your words carry weight and your actions are suggestive.
- Mentorship is a lifelong activity: embrace it, enjoy it, and always do what you can to pay it forward.
If you’d like to connect or work with Cadie, our Project and Communications Coordinator, get in touch. As you can see she’s incredibly passionate about mentorship and always happy to help where she can!