Friday, November 11, 2011

The One Got Away or How I Lost My Mentor

Mentor [noun]: a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

Have you ever had such a creature yourself? This thing called a mentor?

I've read articles about them. I've heard tell of them through friends. You know how it goes, you have a friend who has a friend who has a cousin who's sister has an uncle who's married to a woman who had a mentor...once.

In other words, they are as elusive as Bigfoot. You hear the stories, the claims, but not one piece of clear, non-blurry, close up footage!

If you Google 'mentor', you'll find programs to become a mentor or be paired with a mentor or any number of mentorish connections.

It involves filling out an application where someone I don't know pairs me with another person I don't know. That isn't how I envision finding my "wise and trusted" guide.

I fantasize about this happening through natural means; I meet someone who, over a period of time, takes an interest in me -nudging me along toward great and wonderful things. In this fantasy, they seek me out.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

It does to me too - and now for my One That Got Away story.

A couple of years ago I took a series of Art History classes at my local community college and fell in love (educationally) with the teacher. I liked her teaching style and how she wove in the historical and political influences that drove artists. I spent much time in her office discussing arty things. She tried to talk me into sending my writing into the local newspaper. I could go on recounting her praises, but I feel weird saying nice things about myself.

It is that exact feeling of weirdness that prevented me from mustering up the courage to ask her to mentor me. That and the fact that I really didn't know what a mentor does. And what if she said no? My confidence deficient brain would assume it was because she really was just saying nice things because she was my professor and that's what professors do, right?

Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Come live in my head for a bit and you'll understand...and when you do, please explain it to me because I still don't know what possess me to think that way.

So I just enjoyed my time with her and kept in touch, never mentioning how much I'd like her to help guide me toward a profession.

Then she was gone.

She went on a year long sabbatical to work on her PhD. When she returned I was in the midst of trying to get through my Environmental Biology class while dealing with thyroid cancer. I just didn't have the energy to walk across campus and see her. The last few emails I sent went unanswered. She's no longer on the staff roster at the college.

She's just...gone.

In my typical fashion, I assume that it is because she isn't interested in staying in touch. My mind is telling my heart, "See! I told you so, she said those nice things to everyone and you just made the mistake of believing."

I could do more to find her. I could contact a couple of teachers that were personal friends of hers, teachers I had for various other classes who would pass along my inquiry.

But that is just seems too stalkerish and there is a bit of doubt that tells me she doesn't want to be found. Whatever the reason for her disappearance, I hope that she is well and happy - I'd hate to think that something terrible has happened.

And that is how I lost my mentor - she's the one that got away.

Do you have a mentor story?
Would you seek out a mentor, speak up and ask for their guidance?
Would you pay for one?
And, you actively seek out a trusted adviser or wait for them to come to you?
What's your story?

Lastly, I'm going to leave you with this quote that struck me as appropriate for this post. I'm not entirely sure why, but perhaps it has something to with with finding the strength to just believe in oneself. ( my super hero powers?) :-)

"All of your weaknesses are just doorways to your secret strengths." A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle



  1. The faculty may not be able to give out confidential information such as personal contact info. However, it is clear that this woman touched your life and I'd recommend perhaps writing her a thank you note and asking her former department or human resources to forward it to her. Everyone likes to know they've made a difference in someone's life. She made one in yours. That's not stalking. That's being nice :).

  2. 1) Just Jane has a great idea, do what she says. Now.

    2) Your questions:
    Do you have a mentor story? No
    Would you seek out a mentor, speak up and ask for their guidance? I try, but I always feel stupid for doing so, and then I feel even dummer for feeling dumb and then I just feel all embaressed.
    Would you pay for one? No.
    And, you actively seek out a trusted adviser or wait for them to come to you? Yes on both and no. I like keeping things complex.
    What's your story?
    Lot's of missed oppurtunities, but still hopefull.

  3. Thanks for the advice. I actually did write a note, very recently, and mailed it to the last P.O box address I had for her (where she retreats in the summer, near her family in MN). I can contact her colleagues, who would be happy to pass along my contact info (they were also great teachers of mine).

  4. I had a PoliSci prof who effectively turned me on to education, and changed my entire perception of school and learning. Amazing guy, whom I've never actually met in person. I really, really hope he is among my options for advisors in the Master's program.
    Also, for an, er, interesting "mentor match-up" story, check out Stephanie Laskoskie's blog (An Awfully Big Adventure). Her experience was mind blowing, for me!

  5. I hope you find your almost-mentor.

    I was lucky to have several profs who went above and beyond to help me, and one prof who was my mentor whether she knew it or not. She changed my life by her example.

    The blogging world has some great mentoring opportunities, especially at Blogher.

    If you feel that connection to someone, my advice is to take the plunge and ask them to be a mentor. It's incredibly flattering to be asked, and you can trust your gut if it tells you they are interested in you as a someone to mentor.