How to Channel Your Inner Mentor

Should I be mentoring others?  Do I have enough expertise in my field to be a leader for others?  Should I be giving advice and leading youth to make life long decisions?  How can I best impact the lives of others with the skills and knowledge I have?

These are some of the questions that I’ve reflected on while here at Advancing Justice – Chicago.  I can say that for me, while those questions are valid, I’ve learned not to overthink the idea of helping others. 

When I would hear about mentoring and coaching early in my career, the first thing engrained in my head was to find a mentor so I could learn, develop, and become successful, gaining valuable lessons from other people’s experiences.  I understood the importance of looking for a mentor, but until I started my position here, never gave much thought to intentionally being a mentor to others.  Anxiety around knowing all the answers and giving the “perfect” advice tended to be my challenge.  Did I have enough life experience and knowledge in a specific area to be leading others in the right direction?

Running the Impact Fellows Program gave me clarity around my role as a mentor.  I was able to see the value that I could give the fellows, not from knowing all the answers, but from sharing what I had gone through in my life with all its ups and downs.  I could see the appreciation and connection I had with the fellows with them knowing they could trust me, relate to me, and in turn, learn through me.  Whether it was choices around career paths, personal relationships, solving problems in the community, or  just needing to talk to someone, I began to realize the importance of the mentoring partnership to help positively impact their lives.

I want to share with you some of the revelations that I’ve had in becoming a mentor:

  •         There is no “right” age you need to be or specific amount of experiences you need to have to be a mentor.  Any experience you have learned from, and any knowledge that you have gained in your life, is valuable to those who have not had them.
  •        There is only one person who has lived your life, so you always have something to pass on to others.
  •          Mentoring is a partnership.  Many people see mentorship as a top-down relationship, but it is simply investing in each other’s success.  The benefit of mentoring does not lie only in the hands of the mentee, but contributes to the development and success of the mentor.  Not only have I grown in my own leadership development learning how to mentor others, but what continues to amaze me, is how much I learn from those I mentor.
  •         You are not accountable for the success of the other person, but you can contribute to it.  Decisions leading to success are solely on an individual to make.  You cannot make decisions for someone else.  All you can do is give them the resources and knowledge to make the best possible decision for themselves.  I used to stress myself out worrying about giving the “perfect” advice because I felt responsible for all the choices the mentee would make.  But I realized it is not my place to decide for another person how they want to choose their path.  Do not think of mentoring as black and white, right or wrong.  Each person has their own way of learning and growing.

As an Asian American, I see the importance of mentoring and coaching both as a mentor and mentee within our community.  A lot of successful mentoring I’ve observed involves the mentee going through similar experiences as the mentor, and learning how to tackle the challenges and opportunities along the way.  My experiences, both positive and negative, in life, in college, and in the work world are experiences I have had as an Asian American.  It is invaluable to have another Asian American who can relate to and understand many of those hardships and barriers.  So, seek out other Asian American peers and Asian American youth to mentor.  The information you can give and receive in these relationships is priceless.

–Advancing Justice-Chicago Program Manager, Bryan Hara