Archives for March, 2011
"Whether other people love you is not as important as whether you love you." My mentor, Lynn, and I have been working on this one for years. It is taking so long because it is a concept I am curiously resistant to. Somehow, despite my best efforts and intentions otherwise, I consistently fail to see the equivalent value my own love has in comparison with the love I want from others, or the love I want to offer others. Lynn reassures me that I am not the only one who struggles with this. She finds creative ways to reinforce what we are working on, sometimes suggesting books or movies that bring the concept to life in ways that are now or could someday be parallel to my own. Sometimes she tells me this is what she is doing. And sometimes she waits for me to figure it out on my own (I'll give you one guess as to which method takes longer). And don't get me wrong here - I like the concept of loving myself. I like it a lot. I just have trouble doing it.
When I look at me, I see one thing. When my mentor, Lynn, looks at me, she sees something else. Or someone else, to be more accurate. In other words, in my mentor's eyes, I am always kinder, smarter, more sensible, and have more going for me than I realize. Our views differ because I am usually mired in the events of the moment. Today I feel sad. Tomorrow, guilty. The next day, joyful. And the day after that, angry. So each day I feel like a different person, and as a result I often fail to see any continuity between the days, the emotions, and the person experiencing the life she is living in. That is what a mentor is for, Lynn repeatedly reminds me. She sees the continuity.
Joy. Now there's a sore subject. 15 years out of the 40 current total years of my life have been spent battling anorexia and bulimia. A good 15 more have been spent working my way into and out of that precarious state. That leaves approximately 10 years of my life in which I may have even had the perception that joy existed for me. And those were the first 10....not my wisest or most emotionally mature years. Although, according to my mentor Lynn, that may be open to debate.
When my mentor, Lynn, first met me, the average caterpillar had higher self-esteem. Not that I realized this, of course. I was too busy putting on a fancy display of confidence for....wait for it....my new BOSS. Yup, that's right. I met my longtime mentor when she came to manage the marketing department I worked in for a company I now only distantly remember. I quickly noticed there was something different about Lynn. She had the down-homey confidence of a true West Texas cowgirl with the mysterious hint of the international in certain phrases that took on a decidedly German lilt. I was so intrigued. I had never, ever met anyone like Lynn before, and I wanted to know more. But I had endured enough corporate etiquette classes to know that it was unlikely I was going to be able to ferret out much information from the woman who now managed my corporate present and, if I played my cards right, future. Which was why I was so surprised to learn that she was equally intrigued with me!
"Your thoughts are not always your friends." This from my wise mentor, Lynn, who seriously had earned the right and the life experience to assert such a radical statement. I nodded. Mmm hmm. Thinking all the while in my head, "My mentor doesn't know what she is talking about here." After all, by the time I met Lynn, I had been living up high in my head for years, much estranged from my heart, body, and spirit, relying almost exclusively on the thoughts in my head for guidance, companionship, criticism, and comfort. To hear "your thoughts are not always your friends" was scary to me. If I couldn't trust my own thoughts, was there anything trustworthy I could count on? As Lynn patiently worked with me, I slowly began to understand more about thoughts, their nature and purpose, how they arose and where they went after I stopped paying attention to them. Along the way, I learned that thoughts were not necessarily my enemies either. They were just my thoughts.
In the early years of our mentoring partnership, each time my mentor Lynn would say "it is what it is" I would think, "huh?" That phrase just didn't make sense. It didn't make sense because in my mind, nothing was what it seemed to be. I distrusted everything and everyone (including, sometimes, my mentor). Where are we bonking ourselves on the head with our own stick, then marveling at the "rabbit" that appears in our little hat? I thought appearances were storefronts for the truth, and I lived my own life from that perspective. How could something just "be what it is"? When Lynn would say that, it felt like she was calling my version of reality a lie. She was. Thank goodness. The truth was, I was miserable in that "reality." I was miserable living behind my storefront, hiding who I was and what I needed from everybody, even those who might have been willing and able to meet me where I truly was and offer hope.
My mentor, Lynn, didn't always have it so easy. She, too, knows what it is like to struggle through the inner quicksand towards a safe tree root, log, or outstretched helping hand. How else would she be equipped and able to convince me that I, too, can save my own life? By the time we meet our mentors, they have grown wise and patient, calm and forbearing, sweet-spirited and incredibly loving. But a mentor is made, not born, and to hear Lynn tell it, we all have to have the personal experience of building and walking through our own inner fire in order to learn that fire-walking is an optional, not mandatory sport. In other words, before she could teach me how to save my own life, she had to learn how to save herself!
For the next several posts, I will spend considerable time sharing ten valuable lessons my mentor, Lynn, has taught me thus far in our mentoring partnership. I am sure when Lynn first met me, she didn’t realize she was signing up to mentor me for a decade and counting! I am glad she doesn’t seem to mind. Without Lynn I most certainly wouldn’t be here. MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit I run, wouldn’t be here either. When I met Lynn I met someone who convinced me that my dreams of the human being I could one day be weren’t entirely out of the question. When I met Lynn, I met an embodied version of hope. So the first thing my mentor taught me is “there is never a reason to give up hope.”
Have you ever served as someone's mentor? If so, why did you do it? If you have ever thought about becoming a mentor, for eating disorders recovery or any other reason, but didn't follow through, what held you back? Being a mentor can feel like a daunting task. It can feel like a lot of responsibility. Different mentoring programs are structured differently with different types of application processes. Some programs are very structured and other programs are not so structured. If you are mentoring someone informally, there may be no structure at all beyond what you and your mentee decide in terms of when, where, and how often to meet, and what to talk about. Mentorship relationships, like all other relationships, happen for reasons, seasons, or lifetimes. I have had many mentors throughout the years, but out of all of those relationships, only my current mentor is likely to be a mentor-for-a-lifetime partnership. Each type of mentoring partnership is perfect in its own way. Each lends something to our journey whether we are the mentor, the mentee, or (as often happens) both! The reasons why we may choose to mentor someone, or not mentor someone, are numerous.