Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
In this context, his role as an “awakener” is akin that of the ever-important mentor. A mentor is someone who advises a less experienced colleague, although a “colleague” can take many forms. For some, mentors start as professors, teachers or coaches and become role models.
In my younger years, my mentors were the people I looked up to, outside my family. Most of them were women I aspired to be like, including teachers who helped me choose the right college. Now, as a young adult, they’re my bosses, professors and editors whose opinions I value greatly. They give unbiased advice and offer new perspectives with their wealth of wisdom and experience. They’re clearly interested in my well-being, both personally and professionally. They’ve alerted me about new opportunities, given me insider tips and written me wonderful recommendations.
While Mentoring Programs are useful for many children and young adults that may not have other role models in their life, I think the best relationships are built naturally and informally. I’m extremely thankful to have had such incredible mentors, and I hope to pay it forward someday. It might happen without my realizing it. The strangest thing is when younger girls come up to me asking for advice, as if I am some sort of authority on the matter. It’s flattering to know someone else respects my opinion enough to ask for it.
Most people think of mentors in professional settings. They’re often higher-ups that see some of themselves in you. Or perhaps they were assigned to you as part of a formal mentoring program. Either way, it is important to know what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship.
Many assigned mentorships fail because one or either person is unsure how to proceed. If you are the protégé, consider areas where you need help. Do you have a hard time balancing work and family? Need advice on a career move? Want to meet new people and network? There are many things a mentor can help with.
While this might seem like a parasitic relationship, the mentor also has much to gain. Not only do they get the chance to teach and share their knowledge, they practice their leadership and interpersonal skills.
Studies show that formal mentoring programs have great impact on the lives on children and young adults. The National Mentoring Program says that nearly 18 million young Americans need or want mentoring, but only three million are in formal, high-quality mentoring relationships. That means more than 15 million young people still need mentors. A study by the National Mentoring Program found that mentoring programs particularly benefit high-risk youths. Here are some key findings:
- The strongest program benefit, and most consistent across risk groups, was a reduction in depressive symptoms — a particularly noteworthy finding given that almost one in four youths reported worrisome levels of these symptoms at baseline.
- Findings also suggested gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.
- In addition to benefits in specific domains, mentored youth also experienced gains in a greater number of outcomes than youth in the comparison group.
Annie Johnson is a senior at Wake Forest University from Topsfield, Mass. She is a communications major with minors in journalism and film studies. She aspires to be a writer and editor at a niche media outlet, particularly in pop culture or entertainment. When she’s not writing or watching movies, she enjoys traveling, running and taking long naps.