Mentorship of girls begins with the sharing of your own vulnerabilities
The act of mentoring is to see the potential in someone and help them realize it. What does it take to see the potential in someone? An ability to see your own potential. Therein lies the challenge.
Underlying many of the excuses people give for not engaging in mentorship is the fear that they have not done enough to maximize their own potential and therefore believe they have limited advice or wisdom to share. Or if they are seeking a mentor, they are afraid of admitting what they don’t know and ultimately acknowledging that they need help understanding themselves and what they have to offer. Either way it can be a very vulnerable place.
This intersection of mutual vulnerability is where the magic happens. According to Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania and her research through the Duckworth Lab, resiliency is the number-one indicator of success.
Talking about perceived failures, shortcomings, mistakes, and fears and how to overcome them is one of the most important things you can offer in service to the mentoring relationship.
The level of vulnerability each party is willing to go to is directly proportional to how valuable that mentoring interaction will be.
I know this from experience as much as from the research. I had a former colleague from back in my days in the entertainment business reach out to me a few years ago. She was going back to school to get her MBA and was tasked with interviewing a CEO about their leadership experiences. She asked if I’d be up for being interviewed. Of course I was flattered and said yes. But as the time drew near I started to get nervous. What was I going to talk about? What did I really know? I just decided I was going to be honest and see what happened. I shared my realities of leadership: some successes but mostly inadequacies, like boardroom blunders or that time when one of my staff said to me on an executive team call, “I do not think you share a commitment to excellence that we need to run this organization.” Lots of good times. At some point during our meeting I woke up from my monologue and immediately regretted everything I said. To use Dr. Brene Brown’s term, I had a vulnerability hangover. But my friend, who was a bit stunned by just how forthcoming I was, thanked me for being honest. She shared that for her personally, it motivated her to keep going because the perceived ”failures” she was experiencing were really just par for the course. I came to find out that of the 20 different CEOs that the class had interviewed I was the only one who shared the challenges I’d faced. Apparently everyone else had wrapped up their leadership experiences in a bow and made it pretty. I can’t say I blame them.
It’s not easy to be vulnerable in life or while mentoring but it’s also not that hard. The great news is it gets easier every time you do it.
And regardless, it is worth it because you never know the impact your willingness to be vulnerable will have.
One of my favorite examples happened at a chapter board meeting of Step Up, the nonprofit I run. Daisy (not her real name), a new volunteer leader within Step Up, opened the meeting by asking a group of women, “What challenge have you faced and overcome? We ask the teens in our Step Up after-school and mentoring programs to overcome challenges all the time. What is yours?” She proceeded to share an incredibly personal story about an illness she had suffered from her entire life, how it has shaped her, how it continues to motivate her, and what it has brought to her life. Everyone was moved to tears. Inspired by Daisy, each woman shared one of her biggest challenges and most vulnerable moments. This group of women that only 20 minutes before had been colleagues became a deeply connected community.
The factor that changes this powerful scene of connection at a meeting of women into a game-changing moment of mentorship is when you add a teen girl as an observer. One of our Step Up teens attended the meeting.
When asked how she felt about hearing 15 women share so honestly, she replied through tears, “But you all look so happy! I would never have guessed you faced any challenges at all!”
She felt connected to these accomplished, successful, powerful women who did not share her background and did not come from her neighborhood, but who faced challenges of their own. By setting her sights on being the first in her family to graduate high school and go to college, this teen lives in the vulnerable place of having a vision for herself that her family does not share. Her already strong sense of self and perseverance was bolstered that day. She will take that sense of connection and confidence forward with her. It will impact her and also her family, siblings and community as she continues to move forward in the direction of her goals.
If you are a person who is willing to be vulnerable enough to pursue the fulfillment of your own potential, you are already mentoring. Mentorship happens all the time, intentionally and unintentionally, one on one and in groups, through a one-time connection or with someone you see all the time, through words and through actions. You help others realize their potential while you’re busy realizing your own.
You may also enjoy reading Is Everything Ok? A Call to Be Vulnerable, for Your Child & You by Katarina Wallentin