Finding the right mentor
One KFC ad said it best – “Ukukhula kunzima”.
I swear, had anyone warned me of the severity of being an adult, I would not have signed up (As if I had a choice, really). I think my mother warned me in a very subtle or not so subtle way every time she told me “You will remember me the day I die.” I should start listening.
Lerato was right when she said adulting can be one tough job. I really wish it did come with a manual. I am a strong believer in working with what you have. And yes, there is no manual for adulting, but at least we have the opportunity to look up to people who may possibly know more than we do and can help, right?
For the longest time, I have had challenges understanding who I am and what my purpose is, over and above being a young professional, friend, daughter, sister and the list keeps going on. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I rarely share my truest feelings. As open as I think I am, I am ironically very closed.
Every girl has her mom, aunt, friends that they open up to which makes life a lot easier to deal with but there is only so much we can share with our loved ones and get an objective response. Should anything go wrong with a boyfriend, my mom would be the first to dial 10111 while my friends would start blacklisting anyone who even tries to come at me. I love that. I love them but at some point non-biased opinions become so important in helping one make the right decisions and not necessarily emotionally encouraged responses, especially when it comes to career choices.
My fellow Contributing Editor, Vuyi touched on a topic that I think plays a huge role in shaping the type of women we become over time. The value of mentorship.
Where does one even start?
I think the biggest thing for me has always been identifying the right woman to be my mentor. Does a mentor have to be in the field that you have chosen to follow? Or so someone who has overall knowledge on how you could possibly keep it together while keeping up. People lead such busy lives, I imagine it would be hard to find a successful individual that has the time to be a mentor.
Establishing a mentorship relationship
There are so many conversations that I struggle to start and this is one of them. Having to look for the right mentor/sponsor is just as daunting as approaching the individual with fear of rejection. It sure as hell feels like choosing a potential husband. The right person to navigate life with, someone you can look up to, have long conversations with and share everything happening in your life with, you know?
I had a chat to Boitumelo Matjila, a 26 year old Communications Professional along with her mentor Sihle Maake, a Communication Expert.
Boitumelo googled professionals in her chosen career that could potentially be her mentor and she immediately fell in love with Sihle after reading her social media profile. Their relationship began in 2012 and it seems it has been bliss since. Sihle shared how understanding the role of a mentor is imperative in shaping careers of young people. In her opinion, It’s important to find someone who will have the time for you and also that you understand it’s not so much a friendship, but a relationship. It’s not for your mentor to find you your next big role, but for them to guide you and help you get there (Refer to article by Vuyi on the difference between a mentor and a sponsor). It’s for young women to understand that their growth and career is their own responsibility and they have to work just as hard and put in the work and effort to get to their end goal.
What I found interesting about it was how Sihle never really saw herself as a mentor, until she was approached by Boitumelo. What touched her most was that someone saw something in her that she did not necessarily see in herself. We all need that one person to believe in us to be able to rise to the next level.
I have always been curious about what mentees talk to their mentors about and it seems, anything goes.
Boitumelo and her mentor discuss things that commonly affect women in the workplace, career prospects and opportunities but also tackle things that affect one on a personal level. These chats take place over lunch, a cup of coffee or any casual setting that makes the conversation comfortable for both parties.
This is how Boitumelo and Sihle do it, even though they do admit that getting together often can be difficult given they both have very busy schedules, Boitumelo advises that a quarterly “hook up” is vital to keep the relationship going while keeping communication via text and email open, regularly or should the need arise; her mentor agrees.
If you are trying to figure out where you and your mentor can meet and chat, try and avoid office spaces, Sihle advises. The office set up can limit and restrict conversation and one can rarely think outside of the box.
Sihle also believes that a place that is not too noisy is more ideal, so maybe the club or local chesa nyama on a Friday night is not the ideal situation here.
Paying it forward
“Pay it forward” is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed, by repaying it to others instead of the original benefactor. I personally love this concept and think that the world would be a better place, if we all lived according to it. Boitumelo realised this too and is more than keen to mentor a young person should the opportunity present itself.
The mentor to mentee ratio usually sits at 1:1, for a completely beneficial relationship to be maintained. As a mentor, Sihle has capped it at having two mentees so that she does not stretch herself too thin and avail herself to both ladies fairly.
In recent times, the idea of group mentorship is picking up. There is evidence that group mentoring programs can be effective in fostering at least short-term improvements in a broad range of youth outcomes, including those in the behavioural, academic, emotional, and attitudinal/motivational domains. However, no sufficient research tells us what beneficial effects there are for the long term group mentorship, so I think it’s safe to keep it at one on one.
I am yet to establish a relationship with someone that is a mentor. I just had no idea how to begin to find one or even approach one. The fear of being rejected is constant and that could possibly be the reason why it has not yet happened. I have however seen the benefits of having someone give you objective advice. Advice that is not emotionally driven and needing one to be emotionally intelligent plays a big role in building a career.
What remain important in establishing the mentor-mentee relationship is making sure you are committed and extracting the relevant information from the mentor as a mentee.
Sihle advises that you ask your mentor about how they got to where they are? What are some of the challenges and successes have they achieved through their journey so you can take some learnings from that.
“People generally have the perception that the people that have “made it” got there overnight. Nothing worth having comes easy and if you want to keep longer, it’s blood, sweat and tears… and also losing friends along the way.” She adds.
Boitumelo and Sihle have helped me understand the mentor-mentee relationship so much better. I asked each of them what they valued most one another and this is what they both had to say:
“She’s very clear about her career and how she wants to get there. She’s also very realistic about her expectations and knows the value of starting at the bottom and working her way to the top.” – Sihle
“The greatest thing I treasure about Sihle is her availability when I need advice on how to deal with a challenge or opportunity, she’s always there to provide the soundest advice. When I’m preparing for an interview or a review, I reach out to her as the final stage of my preparation, her input always has an impact. It’s awesome to have someone in a different work environment who can advise you, that way it’s can be as objective as possible. She’s encouraged me when I was feeling low and discouraged. She’s great support for me too.” – Boitumelo
Talk about creating and maintaining valuable relationships.
What do you love most about your mentor or mentee?