Looking back on my career to date I recognise that I have had several mentors who have helped me move from one stage to the next. There was Clarissa in my first professional job, who helped me realise that I wanted to do more than copywriting – with her guidance I shifted into a different department and worked my way up to being the Digital Marketing Manager for the agency that we both worked for.
Then there was Rodney, who helped me adjust to the freelance lifestyle by providing me with advice and tips gained from his own experiences. When I was ready to scale my freelance gig into a business with staff, I had a gang of mentors at the co-sharing work space I was based at who were all more than happy to point me in the right direction, to listen to my crazy ideas and to provide their professional opinions.
Having the opportunity to be on both sides of the mentorship fence has given me a unique experience that I certainly wasn’t expecting.
Now, eight years into my career, the tables have turned and I find myself providing mentorship to two young university students via a formal mentoring program run by the University of Queensland.
Having the opportunity to be on both sides of the mentorship fence has given me a unique experience that I certainly wasn’t expecting. My reasoning for signing up to be a mentor for UQ was to give something back – I recognised the impact that my own mentors had on my career, and I wanted to be able to provide someone with that same level of support and assistance. But I actually ended up getting a lot more from the mentoring relationship then I had anticipated!
Mentoring: Less a Leader, More a Team Member
On paper, being a mentor looks like a bit of an ego-trip – like, “I’m super great at what I do so now let me throw you a bone by imparting my years of wisdom and knowledge on you so that you too can aspire to be as great as I.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth – I wholeheartedly believe that mentorship is a two-way relationship where both parties stand to gain something invaluable from the experience.
There is a whole lot of research that talks about mentorship growing leadership capacity, and that mentees often teach the mentors something valuable as well, and all of that is beyond true. But for me personally, the best part of being a mentor has been that it has forced me to step back and gain perspective of how far I’ve come and how far I’ve got left to go.
The benefits for the mentee in a mentoring relationship are obvious – they are on the receiving end of tailored advice from someone who has been in their position. It is more than just being taught or coached how to do something; it is having someone to share your ideas with, who will give you realistic advice and guidance based on their own experiences and knowledge.
A mentor is your team mate, your coach and your cheerleader, all rolled into one.
The knowledge of knowing that someone has been where you are right now, and has lived to tell the tale is extremely comforting. Whether you’re at a crossroads and need to make a tough decision, or you’re facing a challenge you’re not sure how to overcome, or you’re just feeling a bit lost or stuck – having someone that you can talk to who has also had a similar experience is absolutely priceless. A mentor will help you discuss your options, will share their experiences with you, will help you come up with an actionable plan of attack and will encourage you to take the next step – the team mate, the coach and the cheerleader.
But what does the mentor get in return?
There is a sense of pride that comes from being a mentor. You might have a bunch of degrees and awards that acknowledge your skills and your knowledge – but what those pieces of paper don’t acknowledge is the amount of hard work you had to put in to achieve those results. They don’t acknowledge the challenges you overcame, the sacrifices you made, the hard decisions you had to make or the sleepless nights you stressed through. They don’t acknowledge your story.
Self-reflection is an indulgence that the time-poor often neglect but it can be extremely rewarding to reflect on your achievements. To consider the work that you had to put into those achievements and to reflect on how the challenges that you faced helped shape you.
Being a mentor forces you to do that self-reflection. Your mentee wants to know your story – step by step – how you got from A to B. They want to know the gruesome details, they want to know what to expect and they want to know how to navigate the path ahead of them.
As a mentor I find myself sharing stories of the three month full time unpaid internship I had to do in my first year out of uni – sharing how that experience was difficult, but how it prepared me for what I do now. Sharing the lessons I learnt and what I would change if I had my time again – as well as what I wouldn’t change. I’ve also been sharing my experiences as a freelancer versus a business owner – my expectation vs reality, and the unexpected hurdles I’ve come up against in this phase of my life and career.
In the professional world it can sometimes be a bit ‘taboo’ to talk about these things – you don’t want people to think you have an weaknesses, or that you found something challenging. It is a strange balancing act, because you want everyone to know that you worked hard, that you got in there, rolled up your sleeves and got the work done. But you don’t want them to know that it stressed you out, that it almost sent you bankrupt or that you almost gave up a dozen times along the way.
When you have a mentee, you can speak to them much more candidly then you would a colleague or someone else in your industry. You can share the truth with them – not to frighten them, but to empower them, to prepare them and to show them that even though there will be tough times ahead, it is achievable. Mentoring has, for me, built a sense of comradery – we are in this together. I am cheering them on, and they are cheering me on.
We are team mates, we are coaches and we are cheerleaders.
TheDigitalCrowd run a digital marketing mentorship program. For more information or to find out how you can become a part of the program, get in touch with us today.