One of our wonderful readers recently posted a question that I wanted to explore together in more detail.
She wrote: I was wondering how you become a mentor? I have had friends and relatives refer some of their friends to me when they have needed help and guidance, and I have received good feedback from the people I have worked with. They have said that I have really helped them a lot and that they don’t feel so alone anymore and like that they have someone who understands them. I enjoy sharing my experiences to help others, so how would I go about becoming a mentor to others?
What a great question!
I love how organic the process is that she describes – obviously, she has close, enduring relationships already in place, enough to where family and friends know her story, have witnessed her strength and progress, and have her permission to refer others to her for help in areas where she has personal recovery success. When others contact her, she makes time to help them. They are appreciative. They refer others, and return to her when they have more questions as well.
So while she writes in her question, “How do I become a mentor?”
What I am reading in her question itself is the answer that she ALREADY IS!
So then, what is the difference between “becoming a mentor” and “mentoring”?
It really boils down to a simple matter of willingness versus ability. Let me explain –
My mom used to joke that I was 5 going on 35…and many of my youthful pictures show the seriousness with which I contemplated life, myself, and the world around me. I was a born mentor in the sense that I was naturally observant, sensitive, intelligent, articulate, compassionate, and very willing to help others.
However, I was not yet able.
Those very same qualities were also what made ripe breeding ground for my fifteen-year battle with anorexia, bulimia, depression, and anxiety. I endured dropping out of college, a derailed music career, the loss of cherished family relationships and friendships, several disastrous relationships, a deathly dance through borderline personality disorder, panic attacks and two nervous breakdowns before finally emerging as mentor material.
In short, I had to learn – and learn well – and learn consistently – with lots of mentoring help and support – before I became ready to mentor others.
In my book about eating disorders mentoring, Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back, I introduce one of my favorite films to illustrate this point.
The film is called “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring.” In the film, an elder monk is unexpectedly asked to take on a motherless young boy as his protégé. As the boy grows and learns, he stumbles, falls, leaves, returns, and throughout he is sure of only one thing – his master’s willingness to love and support him no matter what mistakes he has made.
In time, the boy grows into his master’s shoes. Is he even aware of this process? Is he overjoyed at the prospect of one day serving as a master in his own right? Does he find this to be the ultimate prize for which he strives ever harder for growth and maturity?
Rather, he is just doing the best he can to survive, day by day, often obliviously, but never without good intentions and effort. Slowly but surely, over lots of time and with his mentor’s continual guidance and direction, he learns not just to survive but to thrive. In time, much later on in life, he is asked to mentor a young boy, just as his master was asked before him.
And so the cycle continues….teacher to student, student to teacher, teacher to student….
This is also how I became a mentor. I was asked. And when I was asked, out of gratitude for the gift of mentoring I had first received, I said “yes.”
I had excellent mentors, so I understood the importance of walking my talk before agreeing to mentor others. I had great respect for the role of the mentor and I understood the difference between mentoring and friendship, mentoring and supervision, mentoring and counseling.
I had good boundaries and was willing to accept the confines as well as the opportunities a mentoring role offered to me.
Most of all, I was never without mentoring support myself, so if I had questions about the mentoring process I always had someone wiser and more experienced to ask for help and guidance.
Which means that the answer to our dear reader’s question is, “We become a mentor when we are ready,willing, AND able, and when the student appears.”
As it has happened for her, so it can and will happen for us, if we are diligent about doing our own recovery work, learning the big and small lessons we need to learn, and cultivating not just willingness but true, lasting ability to share what we’ve learned with others when our help is needed.
Today’s Takeaway: Are you interested in learning more about how you can support others through becoming a mentor? Or are you searching for a mentor who can add encouragement and support to your recovery journey? Today, consider visiting a local Twelve Step group or participating in a community like MentorCONNECT to mentor and be mentored.
For more on this subject, I am also happy to share the link to an article I was asked to contribute to the Eating Disorders Recovery Today journal published by Gurze Books. The article is called How to Be a Good Mentor and it covers a wide variety of frequently asked questions on the subject of mentoring and recovery.
Hope it helps – and keep your great questions coming!
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Last reviewed: 12 Aug 2010