5 things I learned from being a mentor

Ever considered becoming a mentor? Following a year supporting a teenager with Cerebral Palsy, ING DIRECT’s Luke Johnson shares a few insights into his experience, and concludes that there’s a lot more to it than he originally thought.

There’s sometimes the view that mentors have to be really accomplished or the well-known leaders in their field in order to provide a valuable experience for the mentee. But what I’ve found out over the past 12 months is that everyone has something to add.

Here are 5 insights which shaped my experience, and changed my perspective on what I originally thought mentoring was about:

  1. Don’t underestimate your own experiences

While I thought I had collected some really cool experiences in my 30 something years – travelling, work, a few interesting relationships and some ad-hoc adventures –I never quite realised how these could be even slightly inspirational for someone else.

Mentors, just like mentees, come in all shapes and sizes, so uncovering the experiences I’d been through, and understanding the impact they have had on me, was all part of my journey.

  1. Mentoring can be valuable for both parties

I approached the mentoring sessions thinking, “I want to help someone out”. But I actually got that and more in return.

I was interacting with other mentors and other mentees other than my own, and so introduced to their interests. I was faced with talking about subjects I didn’t know much about. In short I had to lift my game and do some research to be knowledgeable enough to contribute to conversations.  I’m now fluent in NRL teams and keep an eye on how my mentee’s team is doing as I know it will be the first thing he wants to talk about.

  1. It’s incredibly energising

Occasionally, after a long day or challenging meeting, the last thing I felt like doing was listen to someone else talk. However, talking with my mentee was like filling up the energy tank again – the discussions were fun and interesting, and on topics that I felt I could and wanted to contribute on.

After the discussion my energy levels were re-filled and we would both be ready to keep going – we would always run out of time as opposed to running out of things to talk about. I would head home re-charged and thinking about how the discussions had played out.

  1. Remember, it’s not about you

It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about yourself or what you would do in a particular situation; I often had to stop myself and remember “it’s not about me!” I had to listen closely, refrain from speaking at times and be comfortable with silence. This was a great skill to build both professionally and personally.

  1. We should revisit what ‘mentoring’ actually means

We all know what the word “mentor” is supposed to mean – that you are to provide guidance and endless worldly wisdom. However, there were times when I felt almost as lost as the mentee; not quite sure where the conversation was heading or how to respond. We were both learning on the fly.

I think we need to demystify what it means to be a mentor and take into account that it’s a two way learning experience. In summary, I found that I felt more like a sounding board for ideas, which was something I really liked.

The Ignition mentoring program is run by Cerebral Palsy Alliance, one of ING DIRECT’s community partners. To find out more visit www.cerebralpalsy.org.au

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