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.
Milica Petkovic is the Communications Officer, External Relations for Brock University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. She is also a member of the University’s Women in Leadership initiative and will be volunteering for the 2019 Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.