“I ain’t live forever but I’ve lived enough. And I’ve learned to be gentle and I’ve learned to be tough. I’ve found only two things that last to the end. One is your heroes and the other your friends.Randy Travis, Heroes and Friends.
Your heroes will help you find good in yourself. Your friends won’t forsake you for somebody else. They’ll both stand beside you through thick and through thin. And that’s how it goes with heroes and friends.”
I think we’re all familiar with what a mentor is, but just in case you’re not I’ll link the Merriam-Webster definition here. It’s a pretty simple definition. Just five words. “A trusted counselor or guide.” Often times our mentors become our everyday heroes. I’ve had several over the years, but one in particular stands out to me. Justine Ramsey.
Justine’s from New York; I’m from Georgia. We often joke we’re an unlikely pair, the yankee and the redneck. It’s only fitting that I picked a very country, country song for this post. Jokes aside, there’s a very important lyric in Randy Travis’ song that lead me to picking it. “Your heroes will help you find good in yourself.”
I met Justine several years ago while working for my former employer. She wasn’t a member of management. No one instructed her to go out of her way to coach me. She had no personal stakes in my success. She became my mentor simply because she’s a good person who saw potential in me. She wanted to help me find the good in myself. No ulterior motives.
That’s the first thing she taught me. You don’t step into the mentor role to look good to your management. You don’t become a mentor because you want something in return. Mentors don’t collect people — meaning you don’t help someone develop and grow just so you can use them later. Just because you’re their mentor doesn’t mean their success is your personal gain.
The next thing my mentor taught me is to have a voice. This is critical in that trust part of Merriam-Webster’s definition of mentor. You can’t say you trust someone if you’re too afraid to speak up and voice your opinion because if it’s different. Justine taught me that you say what you mean and if others can’t accept you for having a different opinion that’s on them.
After Justine helped me find the courage to have a voice, she helped me see the power in it. Speaking up gains you respect and disrupts groupthink. Voicing your own opinion just once can give others the courage to speak up when they might have a different idea. If everyone at your company is too afraid to express opinions that might be different than the collective whole, the company can’t come up with new ideas. The company can’t and won’t grow.
Justine also taught me to know my worth. Everyone has their own strengths. Just because someone on your team is better than you in a particular area, doesn’t mean you’re any less valuable to the team. An efficient and effective team is comprised of people with different backgrounds and different strengths. Combining our strengths instead of trying to be something we’re not, not only makes our team more successful, it helps us reach our goal faster.
Early in my professional career one of the biggest misconceptions about mentor/mentee relationships I had was that conversations had to stay career and business related, not personal. It was my understanding that it was unprofessional to bring what happened at home to the office.
Justine taught me something very different. You can’t have an effective mentor/mentee relationship if your mentor only has half the picture. The more your mentor knows about you on a personal level, the more they can help your grow and reach your goals.
Here’s the thing about a good mentor, a really good mentor, they don’t just stay your mentor. The relationship evolves. There comes a point where the advice and feedback isn’t just one directional. You become equals helping each other improve. In fact, the best mentor/mentee relationships not only “help you find good in yourself,” they develop into friendships.
Still trying to figure it out,