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Mentoring, Part I

I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors lately. Those that I’ve had, the people I’ve mentored, and how that’s happened over time and in what context (personal versus professional and in what subtexts). This article is the first in a series that I’ll be working on with Amanda Raffenaud, someone who has been both a mentee and a mentor to me in my experiences with stage IV metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and who is also a contributor on this site. You will definitely want to explore her writing outside of this series since she is a gifted writer with clarity and insight.

Mutually beneficial relationships

And I think that says it all – mentors and mentees, when paired well, often move into a much more two-way relationship, if that’s desired on both sides.

So, here are some of the ways one can obtain a mentor/mentee relationship:

Formal pairings

First of all, there are organizations that pair up mentor/mentees in a variety of contexts formally. The main difference appears to be how each organization creates this pairing and the parameters. I think this type of pairing can work really well when one is new in a field or situation. I’ve experienced this matching as a mentee in a professional context and stay in touch to this day with several of the women I was paired with. My experiences with mentoring in a formal program have also been positive and I’ll be sharing more about those experiences in subsequent articles. It’s important to note that connecting with the organization that is positioned in the niche where you are is extremely important.

Informal pairings

Secondly, there is the "Informal pairing", when someone meets another person through mutual friends or there is some other organic way a person connects with another. This is what happened with me and Amanda – when Amanda was diagnosed with MBC, we discovered that we had a whole lot of contacts in common, many of whom suggested to each of us independently that we should connect with the other. The huge pro in a situation like this is that the mutual contacts usually know both parties and can assess whether the fit will be good on different levels.

Support group pairings

Third, there is more informal mentoring that goes on in a support group, where a person seeking input/mentoring can receive that through a support group or facilitator. There is literally nothing more comforting than being around a group of people who are experiencing something very similar to you. The validation when you share and see lots and lots of nods is just HUGE! In a context like parenting or an illness like MBC, this type of informal mentoring in a group setting is vital and provides the opportunity for building a foundation of rapport. Then, of course, outside of the group, informal pairings can occur organically.

Connected mentors

Fourth, there are times when someone in your established family/friend steps up as a mentor in a particular situation. I’ve been connected to others through family and friends mainly due to the fact that I am super open about my diagnosis; at the same time, the challenge in this context is that the match might not be perfect and there are other issues you have to consider. For instance, the mentor might not be able to say something directly because of all the other relationships implicated.

Timing considerations

Fifth, timing can be a huge consideration. Recently, a woman approached several organizations that I’m involved with asking for a mentor who is in that final transition of life, where death is imminent. She wanted to talk to another person in that exact same situation rather than talking to someone who is stable or having a good response to medication. Hard to ask anyone to be a mentor in this situation, but she clearly needed someone who was dialed in to what she was experiencing.

So, now it’s your turn – how have you been matched with a mentor/mentee? Was that productive?

Stay tuned for Part II of this mentoring series, as Amanda shares other considerations to keep in mind in the mentor/mentee pairing.

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