Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mentoring: The Art of Encouragement

I mentored a teenage girl in my neighborhood for a number of years. She approached me in my driveway, when she was about 12 years old and said that they were encouraged in school to look for an older mentor to help them achieve their dreams. She selected me and asked if I would be interested.

Not having kids of my own, I'm always interested in finding ways to involve myself with younger people. It is my way of giving something directly to future generations without having my own kids.

I absolutely love Marsha Sinetar's book entitled, "Mentoring: The Art of Encouragement." I have read this book several times, and I try to use the principles there in all the mentoring relationships I find myself a part of. Some are formal, like with my teenager, or the students at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary that I mentor each year. Other relationships are much less structured. I just genuinely love to encourage and support other people on their life journeys!

With my teenager, our relationship went on for about 7 years. She eventually got married and moved away, although we still coorespond from time to time.

What I found in that relationship, is that as much as I helped her with life choices and challenges, I received incredible gifts along the way as well!

We once went bowling once. It was the first time I had bowled in about 20 years. It brought back wonderful memories from childhood. I used to go to the local bowling alley on Friday nights with my dad, sometimes, when he bowled in a league. My mom used to worry about me being around all those men with their language and drinking. I loved being with my dad, and I've always enjoyed being around men. I enjoy the masculine energy and interchange. That comfort helped me out a lot in my jobs in the software industry, where most of the development teams were usually comprised of men. Bowling with my mentee and her best friend was a joy. It reminded me of something I used to really enjoy, and long since left behind for some unknown reason!

We also went river rafting. My mentees fearlessness inspired me. She desperately wanted to jump off a cliff into a swimming hole which freaked me out completely. I felt a tremendous responsibility for this 17 year old, and I had not gotten permission from her parents to let her jump off a cliff!! I had to say no to that request. :) That trip involved an overnight stay in a hotel. I remember my friend and I marveling at the fact that we ended up in the swimming pool that night, with our legs up on the side of the pool, doing crunches in the water with my mentee and her best friend!! We couldn't believe we were actually doing this as a 'fun' activity!

I also took my teenager to San Diego on a weekend trip to go spa-ing. We had a marvelous time, culminating with getting henna tatoos on our ankles. It was fun, I must admit. I felt pretty wild doing that! It was fun, I should say, until I realized that I was leaving for the middle east in a few days, and having a tatoo that was visible was NOT going to be appropriate to the level of modesty I employ when I travel there!! I almost scrubbed my skin off to remove the tatoo before I left on my trip.

There were so many things we did together. Some grand, some very ordinary. It was a lovely connection and it really taught both of us a lot! Probably one of the most profound experiences I had with her was the day we went to drive little sports car/go-carts on an indoor race track. Once again, my teenager she was absolutely fearless and was very agressive in trying to win against me and any other drivers present. I, on the other hand, kept pulling over to get out of people's way!! I wasn't very good at driving these little cars, and I didn't want to inconvenience anyone! How twisted is that? We were there to race, and I was worried about getting in the other people's way! My girl was the one who called me out on that little pattern and told me to get with it! It was a great insight and a powerful learning opportunity.

An adult, spending time with a young person is an important opportunity to influence and support them as they navigate those very difficult and turmultous years. Teenagers will often tell an adult they feel close to, things they don't feel they can tell their parents. I think it does a tremendous service to a teenager to give them an outlet where they can think through some of their struggles, with someone who has the wisdom of a little age under their belts, but is not their parental authority figure.

I am involved with other kids now in various ways. I do have some teenagers in my life and I'm grateful for that. Teenagers infuse a vigor and energy into life that is like nothing else in the universe! It is infectious!

Mentoring can take many forms. It doesn't even have to involve a lot of time. In order to make a difference as a mentor, you just need to show up and care. If you've never considered it before, you might want to! I think of it as an investment in our collective future!

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