Eleven years ago, the Harvard School of Public Health, Mentor and the Corporation for National and Community Service launched National Mentoring Month. As public relations professionals, we’re more than familiar with ‘fill-in-the-blank’ days, months and years… a mainstay for many topics that otherwise could go unnoticed.
While the potential exists for mentoring to fall into such a bucket, relegated to once annually recognition, I believe we need to give mentoring much more attention – and credit – to advancing the art and science of life.
Thirty-six years ago, a malleable young broadcast and film production graduate started out on a meandering tour of the offices of various professionals in the journalism and production world around the Midwest, seeking advice and counsel. While he secretly hoped to stumble upon a great first job, his purpose was, in fact, to secure initial guidance for the launching of a great career.
And, so was born an understanding of mentoring. From those days of plotting my exodus from college to finding myself meeting and sharing professional experiences with students back on the campuses such as Baylor or Southern Methodist University, mentoring has become an integral aspect of my professional track and that of our team at Lewis Public Relations. In fact, I’ll be personally capping-off National Mentoring Month by participating in the formal admission of new members to the Baylor University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America.
My friends in academia will be pleased to hear that an honest discussion with college students and new professionals about professional realities does not in any way replace formal, structured and disciplined learning. You cannot effectively queue-up and run the race of a career – be it medicine, engineering or communications – without having the necessary formal credentials.
Yet, how knowledge, skills and abilities gained in the classroom are applied to specific opportunities and challenges is what makes for a rounded professional. For nearly all fields, the most frequent staple of daily life is solving a problem or capitalizing on an opportunity. These calls to action usually are best addressed when one has had a number of opportunities to tackle similar situations. Access to mentoring often can help jumpstart the process.
Similarly, mentoring helps break the endless cycle of “you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job.” Doors opened through active, ongoing mentoring better equip ‘mentees’ to adequately answer questions that facilitate a first job, a major assignment or first promotion.
Beyond new pros, intentional mentoring is part of a mindset of lifelong learning. Experienced and highly capable senior professionals increasingly are finding the value of connecting with professionals several decades their junior to go beyond where the world is today to better understand where the world is headed tomorrow.
Much like the ideological gridlock our nation currently is facing inside the Beltway, established and up-and-coming professionals frequently have found themselves clashing in a battle over smarts and status. In reality, using mentoring opportunities to share knowledge and experience in both directions enriches both.
Young or old, perhaps just this once, heed the declaration of a special month and reach out to your industry group or professional society to find an opportunity to connect with someone with whom you can share professionals experiences and perspectives. Regardless of age, you may be surprised at what you learn.