Jul 16, 2011

Mr. Mentor

Mentor. Role Model. Splendid signs of middle-age and new ways to give and explore.

I've had many mentors, many older folk I look to for guidance and inspiration. When I shadowed the Africa Area Director for Heifer International in 1997, it was the first time I saw a profession I wanted, and bluntly asked him for advice on how I could have his job in 10 years (it ended up taking 12, but I followed his advice to the letter - minimum 3 years overseas, a few more languages, and a Masters degree). Dan and Anne were only 5 years older during Habitat training, but to 26-year-old me they were the international-development-savvy professionals I hoped to become. Beth Scott quickly transitioned from ACCES boss to mentor for how I want to be with people. My beloved piano teacher, her activist husband, some of my beautiful friends here in the valley, even my boisterous pure children - so many people who show me new ways to the light.

As I get older and wiser, I love being increasingly on the giving end of this mentoring deal, though as always I learn just as much as the younger (usually) mentee. It's a challenge not to preach or fall into the illusion that my path should be their path, though entertaining and flattering when they do it themselves. But to offer my life and perspective and choices up as a reflecting wall for others to gain some new ideas or insights about their own path, that is a true gift for myself as well as (hopefully) for others.

As I see these young adults embarking on the exciting, life-defining phase of their lives, I feel surprisingly little envy. I LOVED being that open-to-life's-experiences youth, ready to embrace and challenge and feed on whatever the world could offer up, but feel no need to go back there myself. I'm equally in love with this more settled but still-growing phase, and can vicariously keep that younger experience alive through these connections with others at different points along the journey.

This musing is inspired by our current house-guest, a just-19-year-old college freshman from Sarah's undergrad college in Michigan. Each year we host one student for a 2-week life-work experience, and the past two years the guests have been extraordinarily open in their exploring and sharing. As we introduce her to the How and Who of us, we also get to question and relive the decisions we've made and continually make that bring us here, and see ourselves through pure open new eyes.

For example, her first blog posting depicts our idyllic marriage. Subsequent posts paint a beautiful picture of our work, children, land, etc. I read it and wish I could be those people, then remember that I am!

Of course if she stayed longer she'd also see dark and tired days, the uninspired and over-busy days, but just as I don't hide those in my writing, I hope I also don't hide those from her as they naturally occur in our cycle. If I'm truly setting myself up as a learning post, it needs to be an honest and complete picture of one possible reality.

So thank you, dear Charlotte, for being so thirsty and drinking from our oddly-shaped cup for a spell. Know that we receive just as much as we give and learn just as much as we teach, and hope that together we can continue to inspire the better and best in each other.

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