I recently volunteered as a mentor with the Halogen Foundation and was paired with these two amazing young people: Joel and Steven.
We had our first session together and enjoyed a really great time over dinner. On my way home, I found myself being rather contemplative and as I reflected on what we discussed, several themes emerged. I’m jotting them down here for posterity:
Young people are amazing
I’ve always loved this exhortation: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but be an example…” It’s always been a good reminder to me that there is a lot more to young people than what we give them credit for (every generation is guilty of this). I wished I was as thoughtful and tenacious as these two when I was their age! Already, they are mindful enough to pursue great internships and part time jobs while having the self-awareness and grit to pick themselves up from the tough times they found themselves in. Their stories were truly invigorating and inspiring!
There is victory in loss
We shared stories of losses and struggles; especially how we were trying to pick ourselves back up from difficult situations. Counterintuitively, these stories actually resolved our grit and determination; encouraging us and making us excited to witness what awaits on the other side as we press on through our current hardships. It took me back to one my favorite speeches on screen:
Or, if you prefer, the text that inspired the words of the screenplay (emphasis mine):
“And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.”J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Our conversations readily leaned into transparency but at one point, I volunteered a particularly personal perspective that we had not discussed before. It immediately became an important pivotal moment that opened up an entirely new area of conversation and redefined how we understood one another. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to share that view, but I risked it. I am now glad I did and that they both responded well to it!
Be comfortable with questions as answers
For me, mentoring and coaching is less about providing The Answer™ but more about providing a safe space for mentees to explore their way into their own answers. So, as I reflect on the conversation flow over dinner, I want to remind myself to keep asking more thoughtful, probing questions as my responses to them; instead of just jumping in straight with my view, opinion, or experience.
Serendipity plays a greater role than we realize
It’s a sober reminder to realize how much of life is beyond our direct ability to control it, despite everything we can do (and need to do) to influence outcomes or to prepare as much as possible. I was reminded about this when I recounted my journey-to-date: how serendipitous my career path has often been, for example. Many of my achievements have been thanks to the support of loved ones and friends around me; mentors and hiring managers who took chances on me; and sometimes just being at the right place and at the right time. So whether that’s thanks to coincidence, luck, privilege, the universe or an act of God, humility and gratefulness seem to be the best responses to life as we know it.
One more quick point about serendipity: As our trio marveled at how well our life stories and outlooks clicked together (especially with that particularly personal perspective I alluded to earlier), we wondered whether the Halogen folks had matched our profiles so expertly, or… as life would have it, the three of us lucked out to have this mentoring journey together! However it happened, I am glad the three of us found each other in this group.
I’m grateful for this opportunity and look forward to the inspiring mentoring journey ahead!