I’ve been unbelievably lucky to have the best mentors who have shaped the many facets of my life from education to career to the personal. Specifically, there are three standout women who I cannot thank enough: Blerta, my first boss after graduating who taught me to how to be an empowered woman in an ever-changing workforce; Ms. Mercurio, my sixth grade teacher who gave me opportunities to turn potential into success; and lastly, my Mama*, who I can count on to listen without judgment no matter how many or how big the mistakes I make. These women, and many others have taught me in kind to be who I am today – a woman I’m proud to be.
More recently, I’ve found myself forming new relationships where I’m no longer the mentee, but the one giving advice, a shoulder to lean on, or an ear to listen to. I volunteer as a youth mentor for Big Brothers, Big Sisters New York. I’ve responded to countless e-mails and messages from interns and former schoolmaters who have reached out for career tips. I comfort my sister, who is navigating the treacherous waters of teenagehood, snarky friends, and graduating middle school. I take these relationships seriously, because paying it forward, I am spilling with wisdom, patience, and kindness to give. More selfishly, I see these relationships as mutualism – I’ll learn as much as I’ll give.
Being a mentor, and a good mentor at that, is a responsibility. Over dinner last week, a friend asked me, “What even is a mentor?” My response was probably a spew of cookie-cutter traits you’d find in a Cosmo personality test. The question stuck with me on my train ride home that night, and I reflected on what I value most in my mentors - Blerta, Ms. Mercurio, my Mama. The end product from my musings is the following memo, which I’ve tacked on my wall as a reminder of the kind of mentor I aim to be:
Re: What kind of mentor does Betty want to be?
During my Big Brothers, Big Sisters training session, the program manager constantly stressed that a requirement for being a Big was to commit at least 1 year to the program. The reason, it occurred to me, was to be a mentor, you should be a consistent, constant presence in someone’s life, because a mentor is someone that can be relied upon. Many of the children in the program come from foster care, single-parent households, or have had family figures come in and out of their lives. The children in the program need stability and dependability, which are what mentors should be, because there’s nothing worse than being left out to dry.
Honesty is always the best policy. It builds trust and authentic relationships. Blerta, an incredible Health Systems advisor at the World Health Organization, and my first boss after entering the workforce as a new grad was just that. I still remember the first time she reviewed my work, and handed me back my draft paper I had poured blood and sweat into with red marks all over. I was taken aback by the the amount of feedback she had, and frankly, hurt by the criticism. But as she patiently walked me through all her edits and comments, I realized that although blunt, they were valid, constructive, and ultimately taught me to write a better, kickass paper. Blerta wanted to see me succeed and as a mentor, believed in me enough to be honest.
A mentor’s role doesn’t involve being a friend, but personally, all the meaningful mentors in my life have been good friends; and this correlation is definitely not just a coincidence. A year later, I still keep in touch with Blerta through e-mails and texts in which she updates me on her life, daughter, and everything I miss in Geneva. Additionally, due to the proliferation of social media, I also know where she went for vacation last winter, and what she had for dinner. I aim to emulate and foster the same meaningful relationship as I have with Blerta - a relationship based on friendship.
- Note: A mentor’s role shouldn’t be to parent; but a parent can very well be a great mentor!