How Mentoring Serves Both Parties

Recently, I received an email from a former intern of mine when I worked at Clemson University. When I first met her, she was unlike other interns who came in. They were usually very outgoing, talkative, and dressed in lots of orange. This intern had on lots of black, black hair, and was quieter than most applicants. At that time, my internship had become quite competitive and I was able to be very picky about who I hired. I wasn’t looking for the student with a three-page resume, but I also didn’t want someone who still needed help understanding adverbs, semi-colons, and basic writing skills.

When I sat down and started talking with her, I knew I immediately liked her. She was very mature and approached our interview like a true, business interview. She had the right amount of experience to not need hand-holding, but said all the right things to show me she was willing to work hard and learn. To this day, she was still the only candidate I ever had who wrote me a thank you note after the interview experience. That left a mark on me.

Fast forward a few years after our incredible multi-semester time together, and she moved on to graduate school to work at a magazine. She was quickly promoted to head editor and landed a coveted position she’d wanted since enrolling in the prestigious journalism school. From there she went on to New York City, where she still is, and has worked in magazines and now, a digital marcom agency. I have never forgotten how well we got along, how funny she was, and how grateful she has always been for the experience we had together.

Her email was letting me know she took a new position and in the interview, she cited some of the work we’d done together thinking it might have helped her get the role. She’s now a grown woman living in New York but she still took the time to think back on some work we did while she was in college. It warmed my heart to hear that maybe I’d had a small part in shaping her career.

Emails like hers are, thankfully, not rare. I can whole-heartedly say my favorite thing in my 5.5 years of working at Clemson was the writing and communications internship experience I helped create while on the creative publications team. I didn’t just have interns working for me, I took the time to teach them basically everything I knew, get to know who they were, help guide them with career choices, serve as references for grad school applications and first jobs, and even third jobs. My favorite is when an intern reaches out for a reference and hopes they are not bothering me by asking. Just the opposite is true; I love hearing of their success.

Three of my former interns now live in Greenville and one even had my old job when I left Clemson. I am connected with most via social media and hear from them quite frequently. Another is in Atlanta working for a prominent email provider, one is in DC, one went on to law school, one in Chicago, one in North Carolina, one in Seattle at Starbucks. Most, if not all, went on to graduate school or to graduate with honors. There are several others and I can say I’ve heard from over the years and love following on social media.

This is not a blog post to brag on myself, because it’s quite the opposite. It’s to say how much the mentorship experience is beneficial for both parties. There is something special that happens when you mentor someone else and I encourage everyone to find an opportunity to do it. I would be lying if I said every day I found plenty of time to spend with my interns and get my work done, as both could be a full-time job. But it’s those moments you don’t realize you’re affecting someone that makes the reward, days, months, or years later, so much sweeter.

I was a tutor last year for a first grader who needed reading help. Somewhere between spelling word study and reading our favorite Christmas books to one another, we bonded. I got the best hugs from her. At the Valentine’s day show I was sitting on the front row because my son is the smallest so I wanted to see him. I looked up and noticed the girl I tutored was next to my son, so I started waving at her and her face lit up. The woman next to me looked at me strangely as to why I was waving to this girl so excitedly. I said “oh that’s the girl I tutor,” and she said “oh that’s my daughter!” We both started laughing and smiled. She’d heard so much about me and I, her. I complimented her on how sweet her daughter was and she thanked me for helping improve her reading grades. We both thought it was funny that our kids were standing next to one another and here we were, perhaps not-so-coincidentally sitting right next to each other, squeezed in tiny elementary-sized cafeteria chairs.

On the first day of school this year I went to have lunch with my son and asked him where I could find the little girl. I ran over to her and her face lit up! She was so excited to see me, and I her! We exchanged hugs and I realized how much I had missed her over the summer. She is 7! When I was asked to tutor again this year I scoured the list to find her name and begged to be paired up with her again. I admit, at first I was sad to not see her name on the list. But then, I realized it was because she didn’t need a tutor anymore and was doing so well in reading. I now tutor a little boy who is in her same class,¬† so I still get to see her each week when I go visit him. BUt knowing her grades improved after our time together, and she no longer needs me, is bittersweet but so encouraging. Thankfully, I can still see her at lunches and on field trips I chaperone for my son.

My dad has coached girls’ basketball at our church for close to 30 years. He’s now 70 years old and originally got into it to help fulfill a role to coach my sister’s first-grade team. He never aged up and has served as coach of the 1st and 2nd grade girls all this time. People have questioned over the years why a grown, now senior citizen (sorry dad, but you are) might want to still coach little girls. He doesn’t even have kids, or grandkids on the team. They’ve asked why not coach boys? His reply is, “I only had daughters so I know how to coach them.” As my sister and I are now in our 30s and 40s, and I have kids of my own that would qualify for his team’s age group, he still coaches the little girls.

They laugh when he bounces the ball off his bald head, they shower him with Christmas cards, drawings, and gifts, and he always finds little special knick-knacks to get for them each year. They age up and move on, but many will still come back and see him in middle and high school. You can almost always find him watching his past-players’ games on Saturdays long after his young team has finished.

He recently told me how awesome it was to serve as a mentor to six and seven-year old girls, because many only have dads, brothers and grandfathers as male role models. Because we live in the 21st century, let’s be honest, not many parents are going to willingly find a male in his 50s, 60s, and now 70s, to hang out with their young daughters. But he is different. He whole-heartedly makes the four months he works with these girls some of the best time of their little lives. They learn not only basketball, but teamwork, leadership, friendship, and life skills.

The best example of this was last year, he received a letter from a former player. She’s now married and she was in a unique group who got to play for my dad for four years, from kindergarten through third grade. The rules¬† changed midway through her Coach Bacon career, and he coached her for four years. These were not high school or college years, but literally, her first years of school.

Her letter first asked if he even would remember her (he did) and she spoke about how he was her favorite coach, she has remembered things she learned from being on his team, and she’d love to see him when she was coming into town a few weekends later. She shared photos and talked about her wedding and job and home. My father was shocked to receive such a message from someone he knew so long ago, and at such a young age. He has coached hundreds of girls (usually to undefeated seasons) and remembers them all, and their families. But the fact that this young woman hand-wrote a two-page letter was such a blessing to my father.

You can imagine her surprise when he wrote her back to say that yes, he was still coaching, and would love to see her at her game. She brought her family and they sat through first-and-second grade girls basketball to watch my dad do what he does best. It was an incredibly sweet reunion.

I write all of this to say that mentoring others, be it professionally or personally, can generate memories for much longer than the actual time spent with someone. I still remember my professional mentors and favorite coaches and teachers. To this day I look up to many bosses and call upon them quite frequently. If your employer provides an opportunity to share your craft, skill, or talents with a someone your junior, don’t be so quick to pass up the opportunity. The world needs more positive relationships, and they can come in the form of 7-year old girls, 70-year old men, 40-year old moms, and everyone in between. You never know the difference you might make in someone’s life, and even more, the difference they’ll make in yours.