I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Value of Mentoring

When the kids were born, DH's godfather's wife (say THAT ten times fast) offered me a few handy bits of parenting advice. As a mother to four (among them a set of twins), she knew just how lonely, frustrating, exciting and terrifying motherhood could be - especially when you are handed more than one baby to look after. These tidbits of info led to her offering to come and have a tea with me one afternoon...and this led to a valuable friendship. Through their babyhood, she used to come and visit me once a week. We had a standing 'date' for her to come and basically act as both my sanity and my reality check.

Sometimes she would come over and make me a cup of tea and let me cry. Sometimes she would come and just allow me time to take a blessed shower and just enjoy peace and quiet for a few fleeting moments. When weather and time allowed, we would head out to a park or the backyard to soak up some sunshine ... because even screaming babies can't ruin the calm which sunshine brings. As I got more confident (and she encouraged me), we'd go to local cafes and have a drink and some lunch. As they got yet older again, I'd bundle the trio up and drive to her place for lunch.

She was a friend, a spare Mum, a confidante and a mentor. She listens without judgement, offers advice which she does not always expect you to take, and has a wealth of knowledge that only someone who has lived a full life has. In her life she's dealt with marriage, divorce, mental illness, cloth diapers, babies and children and jobs and finances and sewing and cooking and friendship and a whole boat load of other stuff...stuff which I would probably deal with but at that point had no experience of.

As the kids got older, I returned to work, she returned to work, and the trio went on to daycare and preschool. We always had a close relationship, but for a few years there we just never found the time to reconnect in person although not a week went by when I did not think about her.

About a year ago I organised a movie night for the kids' school. Unbeknownst to me, one of the tickets got sold to the daughter of my friend. The night was crowded, busy, crazy ... just utter bedlam... so I only got to see the daughter for about six seconds. She just said one thing, "Michelle! How are you? MUM REALLY MISSES YOU! Call her."

I took that chance meeting as a sign, and I DID call my friend and we reconnected - much to the delight of both of us! Since then we've had a standing lunch date once a month...and invariably lunch always lasts hours and we feel as though we've not said half of what we needed to or wanted to. I get an immense sense of being loved, looked after, advised, and mentored. She gets to feel needed and useful, to laugh at my tales of woe (because we've discovered our husbands are quite similar in nature), and my deep love, affection and appreciation for what she gives me.

I've always read those articles about people who get career mentors ... people to whom they hitch their star as they rise up the ladder of success, people they look up to, people who can be their 'go to' person when they aren't sure what the next step should be. As a mother, woman, friend, sewing goddess and so on... my friend IS my mentor on all those levels.

Thinking about my friend and what she has given me has made me think about the value of mentoring in other aspects of my life. Not one to sit around wondering (doing is ever so much more fun, and ever so much more satisfying) I decided to try out this whole business mentor thing for myself. I called up a successful small businesswoman whose business is not dissimilar to mine (she doesn't make cakes but does make a niche pastry product.) I called and asked if I could buy her a coffee in exchange for a little of her time, her wisdom, her expertise in the "been there, done that" world of small business.

Today I got the chance to see her and discuss some of my business concerns. To my surprise, I left the meeting feeling that she wasn't really all that helpful...because, in retrospect, I think I was looking for some hand-holding. Someone to be my business "mother" and tell me it would all be okay. She didn't do any of that. In actual fact she listened to my concerns and worries and said, "You need to go and PAY FOR some really good financial advice before you make one more decision about the future of your business. Go and do MORE RESEARCH in XYZ areas, and then go to the advisor with what you think your plan will be and ask them if it will work on a numbers level. You're far too emotional about it all to make these decisions and succeed."

So there's the rub, I guess. She gave me useful, concrete, sound and practical advice. She didn't tell me it would all be okay, in fact she said I should be prepared with a Plan B in case said advisor tells me I've got no hope in hell of being successful.

Damn. What I really wanted (now that I've had time to over analyse) is someone to make me a cup of tea, let me cry, and take me out into the sunshine. I am sure that in the coming days the mentoring she gave me will serve me in good stead and I'll feel as though it was much more valuable than I initially thought. For now, the jury is still out.

On a practical note, I got to see how her pastry kitchen works and that in itself had immense value... because it made me realise just how much you can achieve with very little infrastructure.

In a few weeks NN is heading for 8 weeks among the bright lights and big cities of Europe, and (if all goes to plan), I'll get a chance to offer a bit of mentoring to a new person coming into my own pastry kitchen. I wonder what advice they will want, and what advice I might give, and I wonder if I will be of value to them, and they of value to me.

This has me thinking a lot about the role of mentors - people you're not related to who give you advice. Not your girlfriend who tells you he's just not that into you, not your mother who tells you that you are a success even as you are losing every dime, not any of those people, not the litany of 'yes men' who are your friends, your lovers, your YAY YOU people in your life.

What say YOU, Internet mentors? Do you have these kinds of relationships? If not, having read this post, will you pursue them? Do you have "unspoken" mentors - blogs or articles or online communities of people who you admire, look to for advice? How do you get your mentoring?


momzen said...

What a great post. I totally *get* how important it is to have someone hold your hand and say, "there, there... everything will be okay." AND, how important it is to have someone kick you in the butt when you need it.

Right now, I find myself gravitating toward women who have "been there, done that" at my kids' school. I'm expatriataed for the first time, and I can use all the help I can get.

I do my best to pick up the phone or email and ask directly for support. (Because if I sit and wait and hope someone will say "there, there," I'll be waiting for frickin ever!

I have also hired professional coaches when there has been something I NEEDED to do, but couldn't manage it myself.

It's all good.

I enjoy your blog. Thanks!

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

Hi momzen,

I love it when I hear that there are people on the same wavelength as me. It is SO hard to ask for help, isn't it? I'm just about to look into paying a professional (in this case an accountant) for some financial mentoring. Wish me luck!