The Things I've Learned from Being a Professional Mentor


I often don't get too personal on the blog but recently started thinking about why I continue to do what I do professionally when it comes to my career. I often tell people who I know or first meet that I have the best job ever! And I mean it. I really do have the best job ever. I get to work with amazing young people. Many whom have overcome more hardships and obstacles than most adults I know in their short young lives. I truly believe in what I do and it's probably because I once was in the same shoes as the youth I work with.

I grew up in a broken home and was raised by my Great Grandmother. My mother was addicted to drugs and my father was incarcerated. We were poor, stuck living in a cycle of generational poverty. My story is very similar to many of my mentee's stories and youth in our program.

Although it is often challenging to balance my career with my personal life I somehow manage to do it. I do it because financially I need the money to support my family. And I do it because I love the work that I get to do with each youth that I work with. I work with ten amazing young women and I consider each and every one of them as part of my family. I am emotionally invested in them and their hardships become mine.

When they go through crisis I am there for them just like the women and men who mentored me growing up were there for me. When I was fifteen, my Great Grandmother passed away. She was my legal guardian and my caregiver was gone. You can read more about it here. My guardian Neil passed away later in my adulthood from cancer and my community of mentors were there to support me and my family during both hardships. It is a lot easier for me to relate to the youth I mentor because I endured and overcome many barriers in my lifetime. 

When my girl's accomplish a goal that they had set for themselves we celebrate together by going to see the latest movie that come out in theaters, buy a new NYX lipstick from Ulta, or go out to eat at our favorite restaurant. No day is ever the same with these girls and I am grateful to be a part of their lives. 

All though most of my days have their highs, there also are some lows. A few years ago I had three young ladies who were in constant crisis. The stress of trying to navigate different situations for each of them on top of being pregnant took its toll on me both mentally and physically. I was exhausted, burnt out, but somehow managed to persevere and get through it all until I went on maternity leave. I wouldn't say that I am a social worker but parts of what I do falls into that category. Dealing with crisis takes its toll on the mind. I remind myself every day that I do this work because I genuinely care about the kids.

What I have learned as a mentor for the past four years and ten months is the importance of self care, not taking things personally when things go astray, saying bye bye to the "savior" complex, and walking alongside the youth I mentor.


SELF CARE - 

I suck at self-care and always have. For the past year I have started trying to implement self-care into my daily routine but it's challenging for me. I did start getting deep tissue massages every couple of months and doing more things for myself like morning or evening devotionals with the Lord. Talking to God helps me. It's also nice knowing that He is always listening.

I even started writing creative stories again in hopes to someday publish a novel; most importantly to get out some of the angst I feel with my own postpartum depression. I allow myself thirty minutes a day to just sit down and free write even if I don't have any muse. I have noticed that my mood is a lot better and I have less anxiety and feel less stressed than I used to. I actually started writing a story because after sharing my ideas with a few of my girls they encouraged me to write it. I guess if it ever gets published, I'll dedicate the book to them.

Self-care is key when working with youth who deal with all sorts of hardships and struggles every single day. I can't be a good mentor if I am not taking care of myself. 


DON'T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY -

Honestly, not taking things personally is probably one of the hardest things to overcome in this field. When our mentee's make a decision with poor judgment that could lead them into trouble how is it not hard to take it personally? I know I often have felt inadequate at my job if I couldn't reach my youth with my words of wisdom. Sometimes you just have to let things go and have hope that everything will turn out okay in the end. 

I often tell my mentee's that it's their job to make mistakes but the most important thing that they could do is to learn from that mistake. Hopefully the impact of the poor choice they made will prevent them from ever doing it again in the future. 


KICK THE SAVIOR COMPLEX TO CURB -

Sometimes you cant save them all. In my lifetime I have encountered many people who embraced the, "I'm going to save them all," mentality and let's just be real for a moment. We can't and that's just the honest truth. We are not God and at the end of the day our father is the only one who can save anyone.

As a mentor it is often hard to watch young people make mistakes and choices that could lead them astray. Many of the youth I work with have experienced extreme circumstances like getting locked up, addicted to drugs or alcohol; I have watch them drop out of school, get pregnant or become a parent, or even victims of sexual abuse. No young person should have to ever experience these types of situations but sometimes it is the harsh reality of some (not all) of the young people who I mentor and know. I do my best to meet them where they are at, walk along side them, and hope that they persevere through the struggle and get back on track in the end. 

The most challenging thing for me is that I often don't know what sort of impact I have on my girls. One of my colleagues who is a veteran in the mentor game told me that we often don't know our impact until our youth tell us. It could be tomorrow, a year from now, five years from now, or even ten years down the road. As I sit and reflect upon this thought, I don't think I ever really thanked the wonderful mentors that I had in my life. When I think about it I don't really think that I would be where I am today without them constantly encouraging me to do my best. 


WALK ALONGSIDE THEM -

Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird said it best. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This quote has always resonated with me and I apply this life lesson to my work everyday. As a mentor, I always walk alongside my youth not matter what they are going through at the time. It is hard to explain what walking alongside a person looks like but it's being present and supporting them no matter what circumstances come up.  

Many of the young ladies that I mentor are of color and come from very similar backgrounds as me. It's easy for me to put on their skin so-to-speak  because I can relate too many of their stories. I think that's one of the aspects that sets me apart, builds trust, and most importantly creates friendship and understanding. 


Over the weekend I attended a summit and something that the keynote mentioned has stuck with me. He said, "When you take the elevator to the top, always send it back down to someone else." In many ways I feel that this resonates with me, the youth I work with, and even you. Our success will become our youth's successes and the continuum will keep on going with the elevator rising to the top and coming back down to future generations and the cycle will continue. 

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