Coming up through my career, I didn’t always have the option of a mentor. In fact, up until a certain point, the word “mentorship” wasn’t even mentioned. And I didn’t think of asking for one, either.
Then in a job several jobs ago, my boss said that we were instituting a new program within his department: We were to reach out and ask a colleague to be a mentor to us.
Well, that was exciting! But the newness of it combined with the sudden formality made me a little nervous. I had someone in mind, someone with whom I’d already felt comfortable asking questions, but—
“Do you think she’d mind if I asked her? I know she’s very busy,” I said to my boss.
“I think she’d be proud to be asked,” my boss replied.
He was right. She accepted instantly, and while we didn’t have official sit-down meetings, most likely because we were in adjacent cubes and tended to stand up and talk over the wall, we did become closer, and she shared very valuable advice for the rest of our tenure in that company.
It only occurred to me afterward that while that was my first official mentoring relationship, mentoring itself had been going on beforehand—and all the time!
I'm sure if you look back through your career and even in school, you'll find similar nuggets of valuable information, even if you didn't always appreciate them as such.
Fast forward to the start of 2018, with the Microsoft Diversity & Tech Community’s launch of their Community Mentors Program. That March, there was a cool inaugural session in the Microsoft Treehouse on campus where we shared previous mentorship experiences and discussed pitfalls and challenges. After that, the mentoring pairs were chosen for Cycle 1. Now I was the mentor.
I want it known that I would have been happy with anyone they chose for me. I was nevertheless overjoyed when I found out it was @Lillian Diaz, someone with whom I’ve interacted in online forums and then actually met in person at Microsoft Ignite (it’s wonderful when the online and offline worlds combine)! The Microsoft Community Mentors Program provided guidelines and suggestions, and then it was up to us to put in the effort for our online meetings.
The rapport was immediate.
Here’s what we did:
Here’s what we had:
Why it worked for us:
It wasn’t about me lecturing while my student took notes. It was about listening to each other. It was about thinking and providing. It was about mutual sharing and building upon each session to keep growing.
I’m happy to say that well after Cycle 1 ended, we still make the time to meet up.
By now, you may be realizing something that's held true all along: You help just by speaking up. I bet you've been doing it, too.
When I respond to something, typically my thoughts are “Hey, I know exactly what this person is going through” versus “I am engaging in a mentoring action.” Same thing if I post about something I learned or experienced using Yammer, Teams, SharePoint, etc.
Yet I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without people who have helped me along the way, sometimes directly, sometimes just by taking the time to craft a How To post or a video tutorial and putting a link on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Simply by posting about your experiences or jumping into a conversation thread with suggestions, you’re helping somebody. You might not see whose eyeballs are on it or get to hear that your post made a positive difference. But getting yourself out there (online and off) and sharing your expertise matters.
That’s being awesome. And that's being a mentor.
I hope this was helpful for you in your own mentorship journey - each one is a unique journey of self-discovery and personal growth, so remember to enjoy the ride!
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