I recently received an email from the University of Central Florida Alumni association asking former UCF graduates to volunteer to become mentors for current UCF students in the 2018-2019 school year. While I’ve had some mentoring experience here and there over the years (and have been a literary mentor on this blog for almost seven years), I’d never really performed as a mentor in a formal, ongoing capacity. Having figured out teaching wasn’t for me, I thought I’d try this avenue instead.
Why Mentors Matter
My first mentor, Bobby, was a Vietnam veteran who took the time to help me with things like how to interact effectively with the retired service members in the company; how to write a decent proposal; and how to interpret the mysteries of business development. Bobby took seriously the effort to make me a better employee and business writer.
I acquired a second mentor (Dede/D2) at Disney University. She guided me through instructional design “the Disney way” but also was helpful in advising me on other personal and professional matters. I appreciated Bobby’s and D2’s efforts to make me a better contributor (and, as an extra bonus, a better person).
Getting mentoring help from a leader in the workplace is a bit more common than in school, unless a professor takes you under his/her wing. Getting insights from a working professional while in school is rare in my experience, so I hope I’m selected for the UCF opportunity. I know I would have appreciated the wisdom of a professional technical writer when I was in grad school in my early 30s. Would I have appreciated such advice if I had been a traditional student, say, when I was 18-22 years old? Maybe. I had very definite and unrealistic expectations of how my future would be when I was in college. Those expectations turned out to be wrong on multiple levels, and I learned a lot of things the hard way because I lacked a professional’s insight, so perhaps a little reality check would have done me some good.
My Approach to Mentoring
One thing I learned from both Bobby and Dede–and this is why I feel confident enough to attempt the UCF program–was that they served as good mentoring models. They didn’t just dispense advice, they threw the responsibility back on me and asked me what I thought or had me go back and do the heavy lifting so I would learn through experience, not just accept their advice. Any challenge or decision I face, after all, is ultimately mine. With that in mind, I need to keep the following behaviors in mind if/when I’m assigned a mentee:
- Be encouraging but also realistic. For example, if my mentee wants to make a living writing the Great American Science Fiction Novel, I’d strongly encourage them to keep writing, by all means, but also to find a day job that pays the bills.
- Keep my insights relevant to my mentee. Not everyone wants to be an aerospace writer, for example.
- Get my mentee to think for him/herself as much as possible so they’re not just taking my advice.
- Admit when I don’t know something.
- Point my mentee to professional or other resources so they do the work and the thinking, not me.
That’s the game plan in my head, anyhow. What comes next? Who knows? But it will be an adventure, and that’s a good thing.