Yes, you are a mentor

 

She sat down in front of me, a nervous smile spreading across her face. Hands fluttering, looking for a safe space to land. Her voice unsteady.

I smiled. Suggested a deep breath in and out. Cracked a joke to ease the tension. Told her there was no reason to be nervous. This was a fantastic opportunity and I was delighted to have her on board. Excited to work together. I suggested she take notes, a way to occupy her hands and shift her focus. Little by little, she relaxed.

In that first meeting, I sat across from my newly assigned student intern. In the months that followed, she became so much more.

She proved a quick study, an excellent resource and idea generator. By asking questions, she helped me re-learn how to break down concepts and explain skills that had become routine. When she felt unsure of her abilities, I realized how quickly I jumped to reassure her with words of encouragement. I pushed, gently.

Together we moved through a list of tasks, tackling social media take-overs, interviewing faculty members, preparing for events, crafting a resume to showcase her skills and more.

At the end of her internship, she stopped by with a lovely gift and an even more meaningful thank you card expressing her gratitude. In the card, which I still proudly display in my office, she calls me her “mentor.” A term I’ve shied away from. Isn’t that a word reserved for those with more experience, expertise, education? I seemed to think so.

On further reflection, I realized it was time to take my own advice. To nurture my confidence and push myself, just as I had her.

It’s so easy – especially for women – to downplay our strengths and sell ourselves short. When she started to do that, I was there to build her up. I was there to point out the ways she took on leadership roles and stepped outside her comfort zone. There to reassure and remind. There to unpack that belief and help her write a new narrative.

It was time for me to do the same.

Do I have more to learn? Always.
Could I use my own mentor? Absolutely – accepting offers!
Am I mentor?

Yes, yes I am.

If I’m honest, even writing it here makes me a little uneasy. A feeling I’ll allow then attempt to push aside because I can be a mentor. I have been a mentor. And I hope to be again.
I fit the definition – an experienced person in a company, college or school who trains and counsels new employees or students – and have something (dare I say, many things!) to offer.

So while I may have taught her a few tricks of the trade, picked up and tested along my way, she also taught me a thing or two. Most importantly, she reminded me to follow my own advice. To trust your gut. To show up. To speak up. To go for it. And to share what you have to offer. Because I can guarantee you have something to share.

So can I be a mentor? Yes, absolutely. And so can you.
I hope you dive right in.
I plan to.

How to Get Ahead by Volunteering

OK, that sounded selfish. Let me re-word that…“How Volunteering Can Also Help Your Career.”  That’s better. On with our story!

About five years ago, I decided it was time to switch tracks and return to school. At 40 years old. Oh yes, FORTY. Having been a chef for the previous 12 years, and now a newly single mother, I took stock of my skill set, which included multi-tasking, organization, adaptability, and mothering, and settled on the perfect career… Office Administration! Side note. I’m going to admit that at this point in my life, I was sadly lacking in both volunteer experience and the altruism needed to be a good volunteer.

Flash forward into the Spring of 2015 and I am looking for a placement for my course. Hello YWCA Niagara! This amazing organization is where the story actually begins. By the time I had to return to school, I was hooked. During an eye-opening four months, I learned more about the need in this region than I had in the 30 previous years. I became a dedicated volunteer. By stepping out of the bubble that was my personal circle, I gained knowledge, experience, friendships, a network, and most importantly, perspective. Volunteering makes me a better person, it makes me a better parent, and yes, it makes me more employable. Below you’ll find just some of the reasons you want to get onboard the volunteer train.

Get to know yourself

Volunteering can be a great way to learn more about your skills, potential for growth and development. It also gives you a safe place to have others evaluate your strengths and offer tips for improvement.

Improve current skills

Are you a student? Does your workplace not offer the opportunity to flex some of the muscles you have in your arsenal? Volunteering can help you sharpen skills you may have just obtained, or those that may require a good dusting off.

Develop new skills

After you’ve made use of the abilities you have, it’s time to develop new ones. Volunteer roles are less defined than those in business. Find an area that interests you and look for matching opportunities. Charities appreciate every person who steps up, and you are unlikely likely to hear “we don’t think you’re qualified for that.” Learn more about budgeting, leadership, marketing, event planning, or even how to groom a dog!

Develop a professional network

So, you have now gotten to know yourself and your abilities, you have honed the ones you had and developed new ones that interest you. Guess what? People have noticed.

While you were busy on your personal journey, you have likely gained the respect and appreciation of the people who are volunteering alongside you.

Volunteers come from all occupations and positions on the ladder. This forum is a uniquely level playing field upon which to build relationships. Take advantage of the connections you make to find out about hidden jobs or opportunities and pay it forward when you’re able.

Ultimately, volunteering needs to come from the heart; it needs to be fueled by a passion to help. If you already know where your interest lies…you share every Facebook post about animal cruelty or poverty, you joined the Women’s March or loved the idea of clean water available globally, then you have a great starting point. If not, start with that skill you want to learn and help where you can until you find the right fit. I promise, it’s worth it, for your career, your personal growth, and the charity waiting for your help.

 Crystal Carswell sits on the NLSW planning committee and has been supporting the YWCA and the event in many wonderful ways over the past few years