Friday, December 13, 2013

The Most Pleasant Surprise: On Mentorship

I'm pleased to share this guest post from my mentee, Alicia Akins.  It seems hard to believe that just a year ago she was just an email in my in-box rather than a year's worth of great conversation. I had asked her to write her final post for me about her experience over the year and, as you see below,  she's given a great road map for mentees--and a call for more mentors.  One of my goals in 2014?  To actually have one of our conversations not just on the same continent, but in the same room!  (and, by the way, her project is coming to an end in Laos in the spring, so she's job hunting. If she's a fit for your organization, be in touch.)
I hadn’t really expected much to come of my application for a mentor.  At a seven-months into my first museum job at a small museum in a tiny country in Southeast Asia, I thought the chances of my being chosen were slim.  It was a pleasant surprise to be wrong and it’s been even pleasanter to experience the unfolding of one of the most supportive and encouraging professional experiences I’ve ever had. 
If you’re reading this and you’re considering applying, stop considering and do it.  The worst that can happen is that you’re not selected, the best is an opportunity to receive:
·      Introductions to relevant people in the field
·      An impartial third party to bounce ideas off of
·      An extra proofreader of fellowship essays, resumes, and personal branding materials
·      The wisdom of someone who’s been at it much longer than you
·      A platform for sharing your thoughts on topics you’re passionate about with a wider audience
We were both new to this: Linda, to mentoring and I to being mentored and we both learned a lot along the way. Here are several things I learned about the process:
1)   Know what you want to get out of the mentorship.  Like, exactly what you want.   How do you hope to grow in the next year as a result of your time together? Are there conferences you know you want to attend in the next year and you think you’ll need help putting a session proposal together? Will you be looking for a new job soon and will need to have your resume and cover letter reviewed?  Want to become more active on social media or thinking of starting a blog? About to implement a new initiative at work and want help thinking through logistics?
2)   Be realistic. There are a million things you could do, but you just have a year. Use that limitation to focus your time. I wish I had actually been more focused during the year.
3)   Be both honest and prepared for honesty. It was actually kind of refreshing.  If Linda didn’t like an idea she told me.  If she thought it was insightful, she told me. If she thought it was half-baked, she told me.  As I have not held back in sharing my challenges and aspirations, she has encouraged me at times to be more ambitious, and at times to be less ambitious (something mothers and peers rarely do!).
4)   Don’t be afraid to reach out. For a while in the beginning, I hadn’t wanted to intrude on Linda’s time.  I had thought of our mentorship strictly in terms of the hour a month we Skyped.  But eventually, after I emailed her in between those calls and she wrote back, I realized that Linda was available and willing to help with things as they came up even if it deviated from our planned times. After I got on Twitter, we’d sometimes connect over that.
5)   Relax. Linda is about as easygoing and personable as they come.  I was imagining a much more intimidating experience, at first. Despite being new to the field, Linda took my ideas seriously.  Though I’ve never met Linda in person, our conversations were surprisingly not awkward. 
Mentorship opportunities like this are few and far between.  As I’m planning for 2014 and looking for a new mentor, I haven’t found anyone else putting out advertisements for a mentee. The field would be a better if there were more opportunities like this. If you do apply and aren’t selected, it’s worth taking the time to reach out to others in the field and make the request.  Now that I’ve had a mentor, I don’t want to think about going back to the time when I didn’t.
To those who aren’t considering applying: consider accepting.   I think Linda’s experiment has proven that there’s a definitely a demand.  You don’t have to be writing a book and successful blog and have decades of experience to help someone. If you have those things, though, even better. 
Lastly, if you can’t find a mentor, get a group. Linda has Take 5, her career posse, that she’s written about before.
I’ve grown in confidence since starting out on this process and am looking forward to continuing my own mentorship journey. I hope that after reading this, you’re looking forward to embarking on your own, too.

1 comment:

Andrea Michelbach said...

Alicia, so great to hear about your good experience! I've been following the Take 5 project since the beginning and am really looking for something like that in my own life. Perhaps we could start a group and invite a few others? Let's be in touch!