Mentoring. It’s a hot topic among professionals these days, and young women in particular seem eager to find mentors who can help them navigate their careers, get into school, complete a project, or guide them in successfully combining full-time careers with satisfying personal and family lives.
Here’s part of my problem: What’s called mentoring in the secular world of work is what in the religious world in which I also work called being prayer partners. “Will you be my prayer partner?” I understand. “Will you mentor me?” sounds ominously different.
The way mentoring used to work, a senior male would anoint a younger version of himself as his protege. Mentoring in the old model was all about chemistry between two people who had a lot in common. It was also about connections - the mentor, who was several rungs higher up the ladder, would guide his protege toward a successful career- offering advice, making introductions for him, steering plum assignments in his direction.
Leap to the present. Women have poured into graduate school, the world of work, and into leadership and they’ve found they aren’t welcome in the old boys’ club of mentoring. They can’t rely on men to pick female proteges. Not to mention the fact that women aren’t interested in the old style of mentoring - of meeting up on the golf course or over a cigar. So women have changed the rules and invented their own practices for mentoring.
Women’s mentoring is more about commitment than about chemistry. It’s about personal growth and development rather than about promotions and plums. And it’s more about learning than power. A lot of it has also to do with the insatiable need in many of us to be mothered.
One way the rules have changed for sure is that in the old paradigm, mentors chose proteges. Today young women feel perfectly comfortable seeking out mentors.
There’s no denying that mentoring can be rewarding. Mentoring reminds you of all the things you never knew you knew. By stepping back and talking about your own journey, retracing old wounds, relishing past victories, musing over quiet triumphs, pointing out the danger spots, revisiting the journey that brought you here, you remind yourself that you’re not an imposter after all. “Passing on to others that which was passed on to me” (as Miss Ella Baker once said) reminds you of the investment you and others have made in your accomplishments and the battles you fought and won, with God’s help, to get here. From time to time a Mary comes along, seeking advice or insight, who reminds you of a younger self. She offers you a chance to focus less on the hurts and disappointments dotting your path, and to remember and be grateful for all the good things and the good people God dispatched in your direction at the right moment to cheer you and nudge you on as you struggled breathlessly to figure out what your next step should be.