Mentorship is not actually a real word, it’s just a combination of the words ‘mentoring’ and ‘relationship’, and indicates a relationship in which there is at least one mentor and one mentee. That’s great… but what does mentorship mean to me?
I’ve loved the idea of mentorship since I was formally introduced to it about four years ago through the Woodsworth First Year Mentorship Program, a program that I remained a part of for three years. As a mentor, I enjoyed being the person that my mentees came to for guidance or advice – I felt that it made their transition process into university a lot less intimidating (or I hope it did!). My next experience with mentorship came when I created the Veg Club mentorship program with the goal of supporting students transitioning into a veg* lifestyle. Being a program coordinator gave me a unique perspective of mentorship because I had to develop the program based on the goals that students had coming into the mentoring relationships – I learned that a lot of the mentees were simply looking for someone to listen to them, and to share their stories with them. Beyond these experiences, I never really sat down and thought about mentorship and what it meant to me – I kind of just went along with the structure of the programs I was a part of.
To be honest, I didn’t feel like I began developing an accurate understanding of mentorship until around the time I started my internship here at the Mentorship Resource Centre. To be more specific, I had a bit of a lightbulb moment when I was facilitating a workshop for peer mentors about one-on-one communication. As we were chatting about active listening and blockers to effective communication, I realized that these are values that all healthy relationships should, and probably already do, have. Qualities that create ideal mentoring relationships, such as active listening, empathy, and emotional support, are also those that contribute to positive and healthy relationships between friends and family.
So what is it about the “mentor” aspect that sets it apart from other types of relationships? After reflecting on this quite a bit, I came to the conclusion that mentoring relationships are unique because they involve:
- Reciprocal learning experiences – the best mentoring relationships happen when both the mentor and the mentee learn and grow.
- Sharing of stories/experiences – both the mentor and the mentee have experiences to share: this is where the learning and growth happens.
- Guidance vs. advising – it’s a more beneficial learning experience to simply guide mentees through their thinking processes, rather than provide direct advice on what to do.
These qualities can definitely be present in all relationships, which made me realize that mentorship can happen outside of a formal program, in our everyday lives with friends, family, and colleagues. However, just because mentorship can happen in every relationship, that doesn’t mean it actually does. This led me to make two conclusions:
- Everybody is a mentee. Everybody always has something to learn. Every conversation has the potential to lead to learning and growth, and holds the opportunity to strengthen relationships.
- Everybody has the potential to be a mentor. It is not always everybody’s intention to enter into a relationship or conversation with the goal of guiding the process of learning and growth in one’s self and in another person; until it is, it is not a mentorship.
So maybe the reason that mentorship is not always present is because it is not necessarily everyone’s goal to enter a relationship with the intention to learn and grow; this might be something that people unintentionally reserve for more formal mentorship experiences, such as those within a program.
Mentorship can potentially happen anywhere and occur in any relationship, and I would go so far as to say that it is just as important as mentorship that happens within a formal program. However, though there are common themes that thread through peoples’ different perceptions of mentorship, it is a very subjective experience. Stay tuned for my post next week where I will show you just how diverse mentorship experiences can be by sharing with you a few stories from students, staff, and faculty!
Mentorship Week at U of T runs February 8 – 12, 2016. Follow #UofTMentorMoments for more information about events, contests and giveaways.