By Lee Burgess • April 16, 2013•Writers in Residence
I think almost all of us can agree as to the importance of mentorship.
Mentors help us by giving us guidance, being a sounding board, and providing support when we need it. I think that we often have a very closed-minded view of where mentors come from, likely limited to supervisors at work. Mentors, in my opinion, can and should come from many different parts of your life, professional and personal. We don’t need one mentor; we need mentors whom we can reach out to when we need help or advice.
One way to meet new mentors is to get involved with an organization that you care about, a nonprofit, for example. Nonprofit work brings together like-minded individuals who care about a common cause. Typically, you will have a lot in common with others who are also volunteering for that organization, which gives you an instant connection and something important to share. Often, great friendships are formed and sometimes even mentor relationships.
By being involved in my nonprofit work at GirlVentures I have had the opportunity to become friends with many women whom I likely would not have met. Some of these women are incredibly successful and impressive, with valuable life and leadership experience. If we all worked together, it is unlikely I would have been able to call these women my friends. It is also unlikely that I would have had the opportunity to learn from these women, receive their counsel, and see them as my mentors. But in my leadership position as president of the GirlVentures Board of Directors, I have been faced with challenges that I never dealt with before. I have been presented with questions and decisions for which I had no precedent. And although I wasn’t sure what to do, I knew that I had a list of trusted individuals I could call on for counsel. These women, who were incredibly busy and stretched for time, took my calls and responded to my e-mails. They were invested in me, not only to make the best decisions for the organization but also to do the best job I could in my role as board president. This is invaluable. I believe that learning from others is one of the ways we learn best.
Through my nonprofit work, I feel that I have been mentored by some really incredible women whom I would not have met otherwise (especially since many of them are not attorneys). But I haven’t just had the opportunity to be a mentee; I have also had the opportunity to be a mentor.
In addition to the benefits of being mentored by someone else, I believe, there is great learning in being a mentor yourself. Many of us wonder if we are qualified to be mentors. I believe that we are! And being a mentor is not only a gift you are giving another person but a gift you are giving yourself. Through mentoring someone else you have the opportunity to learn from your mentee. And you learn more about yourself by the advice you are giving another. The relationship is powerful for both involved.
If you are a young attorney or in law school, you may not feel that you have much to offer as a mentor. But nonprofit volunteering can give you the chance to be a mentor, often to youth. For example, my organization has mentorship programs where adults mentor middle school and high school girls as part of a rock-climbing program. Even if you are still figuring out your own career, you likely have plenty of advice and mentorship you can share with a young person. And we learn so much from youth and their perspective on the world. What you learn can help you be a better mentor in the future, a better mentee, and, well, just a better person.
Lastly, I think we also can get out there and talk about the legal profession.
I know there is a lot of negative dialogue about becoming a lawyer. How lawyers are unhappy and the profession needs to go through a transformation. We are the people who are going to transform the legal profession. We are the people who need to talk to youth about why the law is still a good profession, so we can have smart, passionate, capable, and compassionate lawyers coming up the pipeline. Through nonprofit work you can be an ambassador for our profession, not just as it is now but as we want it to be. Getting out in your community will present you with this opportunity.
So get involved and open yourself up to meeting new mentors and mentees. Your professional and personal life will benefit from it.