Over the years, mentorship has meant different things at different times in my life. I’ve learned that mentorship can take unique forms depending on where I am or what’s happening in my life.
In some seasons, I have memories of sweet coffee shop conversations with a friend. Mentorship happening over a table without any planning or purpose, just living life together. Two friends who are learning, growing and developing in similar ways.
Other times, mentorship has been more purposeful. It’s planned and detailed. It’s formal with goals and timelines. A planned meeting with someone farther along the journey.
There are seasons when mentoring relationships need to be structured and well-planned with set goals in mind. Whether for leadership, teaching, growing in a specific task or desiring guidance in a certain area like health, exercise, writing or discipleship, these times of directed mentoring with a specific person can be of great value.
Yet, often, the most powerful learning, growing moments can come in a casual conversation with a random person, an online class, a new friendship, a young teacher or even, another overseas worker sharing uplifting instastories. It might be an author in a book who will never know your name or the lady who brings vegetables to your door with a story of how Jesus helped her overcome a struggle which spurs you forward in your faith, challenges you to grow and encourages you to step out in bigger ways. Iron sharpening iron.
Mentorship is a needed tool in your toolbox. Mentoring is important and valuable in ways we sometimes can’t describe until we’re through the process. We’re meant to have these close relationships with others, to glean wisdom and gather tips to help us along the way.
“Life is not meant to be lived in isolation. We are better together. Stronger. Braver. Our willingness to be vulnerable will suffocate shame.” – Cristi Dozier
In this time of quarantine, stay-at-home and social distancing, we’re in a unique time for mentoring and relationships. This is the day of telehealth, online church services, zoom office meetings and online schooling. Face-to-face isn’t possible so we’re creatively connecting in ways we haven’t tried to do before, to an extent that no one imagined before.
I saw a funny quarantine meme with two friends standing side by side with the headline – the two types of people during quarantine. On the one friend it says, “I’m taking this time to better myself.” On the other friend it says, “I just ate carrot cake with my hands.”
The post made me laugh because it sums up this whole idea in one cute picture.
Whether you want formal mentoring and are looking for solid, structured growth steps or you love the informal coffee discussion with a friend, possibly going for that piece of carrot cake… both are valid, beautiful, amazing ways to look at mentorship.
In seasons of stay-at-home orders or when life brings back its normal, busy pace, mentorship is something that should be a part of your life, relationships and growth.
You might be reading along and thinking about how mentorship has looked for you over the years. You might also be wondering how to get things going, where to start, how to be a mentor or find a mentor.
Here are 6 helpful tips for mentorship:
These tips can apply regardless of what kind of season you find yourself in right now. They can be helpful to follow whether you are the mentor or the mentee.
1} Search and pray. From the very first step, ask God to be a part of this decision. Ask him to guide your heart and lead your steps to the right person, the right book, the right class or the right community for whatever kind of growth you are looking for. Pray for discernment and clarity as you search for a good mentorship style, program or format. Ask God for direction in what you should learn, how he’s leading you to grow or where he wants to use you to help someone else. Pray for a foundation of trust to be seen and known in the relationship from the beginning.
2} Be specific. Once you’ve found a direction that God is leading you for mentorship, make a plan. It can be flexible and open-ended or it can be specific and detailed with a start date, timeline, goal plan and end date. The mentor and mentee should be on the same page with these details from the beginning. Be honest about your expectations for the mentorship and don’t make assumptions about the process. Then, plan your first meeting, either in person or online. Be specific about the practical things. Choose a topic to cover, a challenge for growth, a goal for change, a need for accountability. These details should be talked about, prayed over and planned out from the start of a mentorship.
3} Be ready to be real and accountable. A mentorship will only work as well as you are willing to be real and it will only succeed by being accountable to the process. Be ready to take an honest look at where you are, where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Vulnerability, openness, honesty, and grace must be present on day one for both the mentor and mentee.
4} Share, share, share. What are you reading? What is God saying? What are you learning? How are you growing? How did you fail? Where do you need grace? Where do you need more support or guidance? What is causing problems in a certain area? Share the stories. Ask the questions. Dig deep into good, strong, helpful discussions. Let God use real life lessons and moments to broaden the mentorship journey.
5} Listen and learn. While all that sharing is happening, either from the mentor or mentee, listen and learn. Practice active listening. Let go of your own thoughts for a few minutes and really, really listen. Engage in the conversation by listening to the words, thoughts, hopes, dreams, lessons and experiences of the other person. Then, let yourself learn. Learn from what you hear, apply it to your life, let God speak through their sharing, write down phrases that stand out to you or make you stop and think.
6} Duplicate and multiply. You’ve found a mentor, you’ve been through the process, you’ve grown in specific ways, you’ve learned and listened and shared. Now, what is God wanting to do with what you’ve experienced through mentorship? Are you able to reach out to mentor someone else? Do you need to pray about finding a new mentor for deeper levels of growth? How can you start using what you are learning, what God is saying and how you’ve been growing to impact those around you?
Mentorship can happen in many different ways. There is no cookie cutter design to fit all people. We all have different needs, challenges, paths and goals.
Wherever you are in life, mentorship is an incredibly valuable tool that can open doors for your next steps forward.
How has mentorship looked for you over the years?
Do you have a specific story about mentoring to share?
Which tip is most helpful to you right now in thinking about mentoring?