Mentoring: Not For Everyone (Like Me)
Since the beginning of my college experience, I have been trying to push myself into more and more outgoing roles. While originally motivated to try to build a resume, I quickly found that I honestly enjoyed being involved in student organizations, event planning, and a myriad of other opportunities. As I got to know myself and others I was frustrated with my shyness and difficulty talking to others, which I had struggled with throughout high school; and so I decided to actively pursue roles that scared me and forced me to grow. I have succeeded since then in creating a self who is not afraid to be confident or speak out. However, while they were beneficial learning experiences for me, I have determined that directed mentorship roles are not for me.
For the sake of this post I will focus on my experiences as an honors program mentor. It was my responsibility to meet and socialize with new students, introducing them to our program and providing any support they needed. I thought I could meet the needs of people like me- the shy students, the introverts, who may be intimidated by more outgoing mentors. Through this program I’ve made a couple of good friends from mentees, experienced trying to mingle with groups of people, and tried to foster a peer relationship through meetings and small events. Over course of two years, I struggled with the position. Of course, new students can be over-mentored; they may end up with little interest in or need for what my program offers; and sometimes, they just find their own place on campus and don’t need me. I’ve learned to not take it personally when students stop engaging; however, I still feel I have not provided the best experience possible in creating an initial engagement with others.
In my second year of mentoring, I had a mentor partner who was excellent at striking up enthusiastic conversations and giving sage advice. Rather than complement her strengths by focusing on my own, I became jealous and a little resentful, frustrated that I had been working on myself for so long but still failed to make more than awkward small talk at my first meetings. Now, interviewing candidates for mentoring has opened my eyes further. An excellent candidate shows a powerful aura throughout the interview: whether extrovert or introvert, they are confident, friendly, and easy to talk to, making for a comfortable conversation. The experience they offer to me is not one I’m able to easily recreate.
After reflecting on the people who inspire and support me, I know I am not the person my younger self needed. I don’t have the confidence to reach out and strike up conversation to bring that shy person out of their shell. I don’t naturally connect to others in group scenarios or create meaningful conversations. I may be good at planning events, sending regular emails, and making an effort to provide my mentees with a worthwhile experience. But there’s a lot of energy required in being enthusiastic and personable- for me, the energy cost is too high, exhausting and demotivating me before the year is over. I may be capable of trying to mentor, but my energy and skills are best put to use in less gregarious positions. And that’s okay. No one person can do everything; it’s important to take stock of how good you are at a task in addition to how much you like it. Being aware of these things is the first step to recognizing and harnessing individuals’ skills, being able to delegate, and creating an efficient, successful team.