I’ve been meaning to post this all week, but the time has somehow gotten away from me. This post was inspired by a friend’s Facebook status, asking “Who’s your mentor? What did they do to inspire you?” I spent a few minutes trying to answer it on Facebook, but in the end I gave up for several reasons. First of all, there are too many people who inspired me in my life as mentors and role models. Secondly, when I think of my current crew of inspiring role models (including the friend who posted the question), I have trouble labeling them “mentors”. The mentor-mentee relationship seems very one-directional to me and I don’t really have anything equivalent to that anymore. I have something better.
Before I go into that, let me take a moment to say thank you to the mentors of my past. This is some of what I wrote last Monday.
“To me, a mentor is a person who takes the time and energy to listen, ask questions, and give guidance; it’s a person who doesn’t try to dictate which way I go, but supports me on the path of learning, through successes and failures.
I’ve had many mentors in my life, from Mr. Guritz, my high school history teacher who truly believed in me and helped me start to believe in myself, and Mr. Claudon and Dr. Epstein who taught me how to write and inspired my love for words and language, to the TA who taught my rhetoric class in college who was baffled that I was a physics major and not an English major, to Annie Barry, the secretary who employed me when I was homeless for the summer and opened my eyes to a wider world I hadn’t considered before, to the professor who gave me the opportunity to facilitate classes and ignited the spark that set me on this path.
When I arrived in Korea, I was 22 and had never left my home culture before. Mrs. Lee, my manager, taught me that even though culture is different, on a deeper level, people are the same. I landed on my feet in Siji – eastern Daegu – and soon met Julie Chase, who made it her project to get me involved and help me learn about the ways and means of the city. She inspired me to be inclusive when other new people came and make our community open and welcoming.
Many many years have passed since then and now I’m on a new branch of the path”
**That’s where my writing dwindled to notes. Talking about the present is much harder than the past. I almost feel like writing about it somehow cheapens it. But I’m going to give it a go anyway – with love to my friends:**
The people who inspire me these days are better than mentors because while they are role models and colleagues, they are also friends. Friendship allows for an exchange of ideas, debate, sharing information, and asking thoughtful questions that might be less comfortable in a more formal relationship. My friends are amazing people who have a deep impact on my life. Due to friendly nudges of “Hey, you might be interested in this….” (thanks Nina), I have met more amazing people, joined some fascinating groups, started my master’s degree, and within this community found not just interests, but passions that I never knew were locked inside me. I’ve also found that perhaps I have something to contribute, too. Therein lies the value of friends over mentors: I feel like a valuable member of a community among my friends.
I want to end by reflecting back the original question: who are your mentors? Or, like me, do you have a community of something better?