The Heart of Mentorship

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Here is a photo of my amazing mentee, Miriam. We were connected through a formal mentoring program at Brown University called Women's Launch Pad; it pairs female juniors and seniors with Brown alumni women to support the transition to life after college. (Oh how I wish I had the program when I was a senior!) 

When Miriam first reached out to me, she wrote me one of the most professional emails I'd ever received in my life. It was my first time in a formal role as mentor. It was her first time building a professional relationship with someone who wasn't a professor. We were both a little intimidated by each other.

It's been four years since then, and she's moved through a few steps in her career already. Through all of that, we've kept in touch—sharing updates and questions as we find ourselves at crossroads again and again. 

Last week, we were invited back to our alma mater for the kickoff panel for this year's program; we got to reflect on our time together and share our tips for making the most of a mentoring relationship.

Here are some of our favorites: 

1. We reflected back and championed what we saw in each other. She was already so accomplished, with a resume full of amazing internships, and total readiness to bring a ton of expertise, curiosity, and problem-solving to her first job. She couldn't see that in herself. But I could see it right away. She saw me as established, confident, clear on my path—all of the things I felt that I wasn't.

2. We grew together. I realized quickly that this program wasn't just about her growth as the mentee—it was about mine as well. I learned so much from the questions she asked, and how they prompted me to reflect on my own experience. I learned how to be a good mentor and mentee. And our mentoring relationship also paralleled my first pregnancy—from our first meeting when I was barely showing to our final lunch where we ate chocolate cake and I tried awkwardly to breastfeed in public for the first time. 

3. Our relationship was a safe space for discovery. Miriam didn't have to pretend to have it all together—she brought all of her messy, complex, or naive questions and doubts knowing that she wouldn't be judged, and that our time together was all about exploration. Unlike her family and friends, I could be objective about the next steps of her career. We could figure out what she truly wanted for herself, outside of the influence of the many voices in her life.

4. We crafted and shared our stories. As a mentor, I had the opportunity to synthesize my narrative of the key points in my career. As the mentee, she shaped the narrative of her skills and sense of purpose. As a result, we both understood our paths more clearly—looking back, and looking forward into the future. 

One of my favorite quotes about leadership comes from the one and only Fred Rogers:

 
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Who you are and what you do is unique. Let's bring that uniqueness out in each other to make the world a better place. Mentor and be mentored. OK?