Shout out / Soapbox

Just got back from a great conversation with a colleague and friend. Though she’s about my age, and in a similar place career/life-wise, I consider her a mentor, not necessarily in the traditional sense, but she gives me guidance and support in my career aspirations, and I hope that I do/can do the same.

I think its important to add to the “traditional” mentor role. Sure, my colleague is about my age and about my experience level, but I think of her as an ally-mentor. I value that she is in the trenches with me and knows firsthand what I’m experiencing. Unlike a traditional mentor, who (theoretically) would be further ahead of me in her career, or older and more experienced, my colleague is going through much of what I go through. We can exchange tactics, and commiserate about a shared problem. To use the pipeline metaphor, she is the woman directly in front of me in the pipeline, but we’re mostly in the same spot. It really helps to have an ally close by.

It helps, too, to have allies with a little more experience, more traditional mentors if you will. I have a walking-buddy who you could call my General of Strategy (we’re leaving the pipeline metaphor now and going back to the trenches—who knows where we’ll end up). We walk and talk about what’s happening in our lives. I think I get more advice than I can give, but the most helpful part is figuring out how to verbalize what I want. Then we strategize about what I should do next: what I should say for my boss in our next conversation, for example, or how to negotiate pay. And she follows up with me. She asks how it’s going, so I feel accountable for carrying out my “missions.”

And it helps to have someone with a bigger picture. My mom is much, much further along in her life (duh) than I am, and most of her friends are too. They tell good stories about what it was like starting a career in the ‘70s, what mistakes they made, which jobs fired them. They are good too, at keeping a wider perspective, asking what will really make me happy, asking me to remember the rest of my life outside of work, reminding me that I am young.

I need to hear the war stories of other women. I need to hear from the friend I hung out with today about asking for a raise and being told no. I need to hear it because, hey, she asked, she lost, and she’s still fighting. I need to hear my walking-buddy say “here’s what you do…” and then give me a run down of my next conversation with my boss or my boss’ boss or the CEO.  I need to talk out a game-plan and know that someone else is rooting for me, and will be checking in.  I need to hear from my mom and aunts and their friends about their mistakes and what they learned. I need (we need) to talk about careers. We need to talk about money. We need to talk about how we got to where we are and what we learned along the way. Above all, we have to pass that information along.

So this is my advice: have an ally, a general of strategy, and a sage (at least one, more might be better). Use them, trust them, confide in them honestly. And then pass on what they’ve given you when your turn comes around. I’m getting a lot out of having so many mentors, and I hope that I have the opportunity to give that back. Being considered a mentor is one of the greatest honors and accomplishments I can imagine.

I guess this is what advice-writers mean when they write about having a “board of directors” or a “Team You.” It is about having people around who encourage and actively contribute to your growth, and then it is about actively contributing to the growth of others. So a shout out to my mentors: thank you, and an offer: I will be a mentor too.

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