Mentoring is Good for the Soul

Living in New York City, happy hour and brunch quickly become a standard weekly activity. It’s how we network, decompress, connect with friends and even date. With the constant hustle and energy that makes NYC such an amazing place to live and work, these after work or weekend events become absolutely essential for your sanity.

img_10502During residency, I would often forego other stress relieving activities, namely exercising, for the opportunity to partake in the NYC atmosphere during the little time off I had. So it was with no hesitation that when I was invited to attend a happy hour hosted by a mentoring organization, iMentor.org, that I jumped at the opportunity. Honestly, it didn’t really matter who was hosting the happy hour and no I am not a lush, in fact I don’t drink much at all, but the idea of leaving a long day’s work and laughing, storytelling and connecting with my fellow New Yorkers, who understood what it was like to both love and hate this insane but amazing city, was enticing.

At some point I listened to a short presentation by a few of the mentors in the program, young professionals in the fields of business, finance, law, medicine, etc, most of whom were initially persuaded by their jobs to join but now spoke of the unexpected fulfillment that they got from working with the young people of NYC. They told tales of meeting hesitant students that did not know what was in store but who now bonded with their mentors over interests and life experiences common to their unlikely relationship.
img_1063So after taking a quick survey of my day to day for the past 2.5years of residency, I realized that while work, studying and happy hour was to most a satisfactory work/life balance, I was truly lacking personal fulfillment and a purpose other than my own advancement. That day I signed up to become a mentor and my life has been changed ever since.

I answered a few introductory questions, did a background check with the organization and a few weeks a later, I was informed that I had been assigned a mentee.  I was assigned to a school in Brooklyn where my mentee was a 15years old 10th grader. We were matched based on common interests and potential career goals. Her school had only recently become affiliated with the mentoring program so this experience was as unfamilar to her as it was to me. The school itself was an old factory turned high school with, at least from what I saw, well meaning teachers lacking the resources to adequately educated our youth. Books were missing pages, there was no athletic program, fights between students happened weekly and students with so much potential often went unfostered.

Fortunately, I lucked out. My mentee was a vibrant young lady who immedately approached me with a smile on our introductory day, engaged me with questions about myself and my career, and very openly worked with me on the days assignment. iMentor.org is a college prep, in-person and email based mentoring program, that works to develop personal relationships, nurture college aspirations and build critical skills that lead to college success. iMentor mainly works through an online platform that allows mentors, mentees and program leaders to interact and complete designated assignments such as mock college personal statements. Monthly face-to-face interactions often involved discussions of career goals, identifying potential road blocks to success and cultivating skills needed to flourish in college.

5c2bf44f-b91d-4a45-bf13-19e06170b9e52From the moment my mentee and I began interacting, it became apparent that she was smart, desired personal success and was supported by family but lacked guidance and opportunity from her school. My initial goals for our mentor/mentee partnership was to help improve her writing and comprehension skills, things that should not have been lacking in a 10th grader, and to help focus her interest and talents so that she could decide on a potential career path. Yet how do you choose a career path when you have a limited view of what is available to you, much less what it takes to get to achieve that goal. Of course any child can watch television and know that there are jobs as a nurse or doctor, salesman or firemen in the world, but how can they truly know what they want to be if they have not been allowed to cultivate their personal interests enough to begin inn a path that is most suited for them?

While college prep remained the primary focus for us, I decided that my new goal was to expose my mentee to as much diversity in life as possible. What better place to be in to get a broad perspective of the world than New York City? If she knew what interested her, then picking a career path would be that much easier. But rather than attending panel discussions, we would take a broader approach and explore the various activities, neighborhoods and lifestyles of  New York in order to formulate a more open-minded and exposed world view. Hopefully from these experiences, she would better understand the world, her place in it and the opportunities available to her.

Together we went to dance class where we took hip-hop at the renowned Alvin Alley Dance Theater. We attended Broadway performances, dined at restaurants in neighborhoods that offered a cultural and culinary experience. We ventured outside of New York City to the more quaint towns and experienced nature at its finest. We sat on the floor of Barnes and Nobles for hours with books on SATs, colleges and writing skills. Over one summer break, we both read the same books from a reading list and discussed the topics. We researched online starter investment accounts like betterment.com and discussed long term savings. We bonded, we laughed, we learned, we grew as people and we created what has become an amazing friendship. Through these experiences, we not only exposed ourselves to the many activities and adventueres that NYC has to offer, but for a girl whose regular environment generally consisted of the people and cultures in her neighborhood, being exposed to new surroundings, a wider range of socio-economic status and ways of thinking, an array of careers and lifestyles, all being new experiences.
img_1051Today, my mentee is 21, finishing her 3rd year of college and looking forward to graduating. Throughout our time together, she has entertained many career options including OT, PT , PA & Rads tech, mostly because those where the professions she was most familiar with from family. Now, after working in an after school program with younger children throughout high school and being part of this mentoring program, she has decided to become a teacher. She has grown tremendously from this experience of having someone around who is willing to offer guidance, support and frienship and looks forward to being a teacher and mentor to her future students.  She initially hesitated to make this decision based mostly on the monetary compensation but is now excited to become someone who is charged with cultivating the lives of the youth of tomorrow. With her genuine passion for the field, I am even more confident that she will look to continue to achieve in higher levels of education. My mentee and I have become friends and she even checks on me these days. Throughout my post-residency journey to figure out what was  my new life of purpose, my relationship with my mentee has remained one of the few things that reminded me that I was here to do something great for someone other than myself. Whether through an organized mentoring program or by simply supporting and uplifting your fellow Maven, I encourage you to share your blessings and become a mentor.