Meaning Through Mentoring
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
After several years in a VP of Engineering Practice job in a large software company, I had an epiphany: what gave me the strongest sense of meaning was mentoring others. While my job was large in scope and impact, it was my interactions with people who came to me for mentoring, advice, or just listening that made me feel that I was making a difference. I’ve been mentoring for many years, and when I first started mentoring, I established boundaries for how many mentees I was willing to take on at any one time (two individuals, one group). One day, however, I stopped counting. Why be stingy with my heart and soul? There’s something about my non-traditional background and career progression that gives people hope and inspiration. People want to understand how someone who studied Drama and French got to be a VP of Engineering Practice, and I am happy to share my unexpected career path and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. But what I’ve realized as a mentor is that the small pieces of advice or guidance I give are not the most important aspects of mentoring. What makes a difference in people’s lives is feeling heard, seen, and believed. While I mentor men and women, 90% of my mentees are women. The women want to find a female executive who they can be open with, who will be human with them, who won’t intimidate them. I have heard many executives talk about mentors as people who are tough with their mentees and who give hard feedback. That is not my way. While I will give feedback and guidance, I do it in the most positive, supportive, and kind way I can. There are enough harsh challenges in the workplace—I am here to bolster people’s bruised egos and wounded hearts. I am here to make them feel stronger and more able to navigate their way through the complexities and injustices of the workplace. I am grateful to every person who has trusted me to be their mentor. Each of my mentees has opened my eyes to something new, and I learn from each person I meet with. I become a better leader and a better, more empathetic human being. I would like to invite other business leaders to think about mentorship as a way of opening your hearts to others. Don’t come to it from a position of power, authority, or infinite wisdom. Come to it with warmth, openness, and curiosity. The meaning will come in time.