How Having a Mentor Changed My Career

The first day of my career in child welfare I met a woman who had been working with the agency for 35 years. She started in the field and worked her way into a coveted position that many people wish they had.  As any wonderful motherly figure would do, she provided me with cleaning supplies to get the gross dust off my desk to help my small cubicle feel a little more like home.  Little did I know, she’d end up being my biggest supporter and my very best asset as my mentor for the following year, teaching me more than I could have ever hoped.

She told was able to tell me the ins and outs of the office culture: Because she had been around for so long, she was able to tell me some of the history and “insider” secrets about the office culture.  My office is filled with politics that can be confusing and difficult, especially coming in from the outside like I did.  Her insights on navigating the system of child welfare was more beneficial then I ever realized at the moment.

She helped me gain confidence in my industry: I remember one of my first interactions with a high ranking individual.  She stood in front of me and blankly said “How did you get here?  We don’t hire outsiders.”  I didn’t have a response.  It made me feel as though I didn’t earn my position even though I clearly had, probably more so than many others.  However, my mentor helped me realize that I deserved to be where I was regardless of what people said.  I was smart and had skills that would greatly benefit all those around me.  She reminded me that sometimes people are so stuck in the past and unwilling to change that you just need to show them that you’re worth it.  Once they trust you, you’ll be golden.

She introduced me to key people: My mentor literally knew everyone.  If she hadn’t talked to them face-to-face, she had certainly e-mailed them.  This was a huge benefit to me.  She was able to introduce me to all the movers and shakers that I needed to know.  While she did this she also helped me with the next thing.

She helped other people gain confidence in me by vouching for my skills: While she was introducing me to people, she was vouching for my skills.  She made sure to let everyone know I was more than capable of taking over some of her key projects and that they shouldn’t hesitate to contact me.  In turn, this really built up my confidence.  Knowing I had someone who believed in me helped me believe in myself.  Once that happens, you’d be amazed at what you can do!

As my “work mom” she gave me someone to go to and trust when the going gets tough: Mentors provide more than insider knowledge and a step in the right direction.  They provide support on all levels of your life.  I happened to be planning my wedding during my first year of work.  Talk about stress!  When I was having a bad day though, I knew I could hide in her office and talk it out.  Or just sit silently.  It was whatever worked. Then, after my 10 minute breakdown I’d be ready and raring to go again.  She was my work mom and supported me through and through.  Everyone needs that because, let’s face it, sometimes work sucks and life sucks on top of that.  Don’t go through it all alone!

She taught me that cookies are the way to people’s hearts (and to getting the help you need): Want to make friends and get help for almost anything?  Ask them with a smile and fresh batch of cookies (store bought are fine if you’re not Martha Stewart or simply don’t have the time).  This is one tip that I will always, always remember!  One of my main projects in which people originally doubted my work ability also required lots of assistance from almost every unit in the department.  How did my mentor get this help?  Well, besides already knowing everybody from being here so long, she loved to offer some homemade treats in exchange for a speedy response.  And let me tell you, it worked!  People love feeling appreciated and there’s no better way to show you care then by feeding them.  It’s amazing how far a smile, thank you, and a tasty treat can really get you.

Sadly, after this first year my mentor decided it was time to retire.  I don’t really blame her considering she’d been working for longer than I had been alive (literally).  I remember everyone asking me what I was going to do once she was gone.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure.  She was my go-to person and I was terrified of losing her.  In the end, though, it turned out fine.  She taught me the skills I needed, let everyone else know I was capable, and gave me the confidence to make the bigger moves that I needed to.  Plus, she’s still there when I need her thanks to trusty e-mails and text messaging.

Our shirts on the last day of work for my mentor.  She had 8 hours, I have 40 more years!

Our shirts on the last day of work for my mentor. She had 8 hours, I have 40 more years!

If you haven’t already found a mentor, or a mentee if you’re in that position in life, I greatly recommend you do.  It can be anyone who helps you succeed in your career that you feel comfortable with.  Not only will they help you, but chances are you’ll be helping them too.  I know that my mentor loved our walks and talks just as much as I did.  Chances are you won’t only move forward in your career, you’ll also make a great friend out of a colleague!

Now it’s your turn! Do you have a mentor or a mentee?  How have they helped you succeed?

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