When I think back on my career, I’m sad that there were very few positive mentors and a just few coaches that crossed my path. However, when there was someone who took an interest in me, was willing to invest their time and energy in smoothing my journey or considered ways they could help me, I was always grateful. I think these people in my life stand out because it was so rare in my generation, especially for women, to find someone who would make the commitment to helping someone else learn to navigate a system that hadn’t changed for generations.
I am really excited that a number of co-workers, all of them young women, have taken me up on my offer of becoming their mentor. A mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser.” The act of mentoring is to “advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).”
I have already started this process with them and I’m hooked. We spend about 30 minutes together once a month. Each person has a different purpose and focus. Some send me questions or ideas ahead of time so that I can prepare. While other meetings are very casual and off-the cuff. We talk about whatever is on their mind in that moment.
Mentoring is different than a friendship. I’ve realized that there has to be something in it for both parties for the time spent to make sense. For the mentees, it is a chance to ask questions, hear stories, seek guidance for a situation they are struggling with or understand better the work environment in which they find themselves. Some are seeking career advice, need help with preparing a job application or practice interviewing skills. Others are making decisions about their careers and their plans for the future.
With the pandemic and all of them working from home, I’ve been able to offer emotional support for those working hard on their careers all while parenting young children. They have incredibly daunting challenges, including being productive, caring for kids at home, virtual schooling, and schedules that don’t line up. While their husbands generally leave the home and can go to work to “get a break”, they are left for long days trying to juggle multiple pressures with absolutely no boundaries between work, school and home life.
For me, I derive a great deal of joy listening to both their challenges and their successes. I love to help them see a challenging situation from a different point of view. I can provide a unique perspective because I’m familiar with our work culture, county history and the people who comprise our office and our customers. This opportunity to be in a mentor-mentee relationship, for as long as it makes sense for all of us, provides me with a connection to the past while transitioning to my future. It gives me a chance to give back to a community I have loved for over four decades.
Yes, I’m looking forward to retirement but I know I’ll miss the people part of my job and work life. As a mentor, I will be able to encourage public servants from outside the organization absent the hierarchy structure of a large department. I’ll have more time to focus on their needs and to find ways I can help them but still have a small connection to a workplace I have loved.
In so doing, I feel strongly that I’ll receive more than I’m giving because I have a chance to invest in a new generation. I’m finding it personally satisfying to share some of the hard lessons I’ve learned with a small group of mid-career women in a male dominated field so that they can be encouraged and grow. The possibilities for them and for me are limitless and right now I’m engaged and excited about this new chapter!
Barbara is the new star of the Rock Your Retirement show! For one year, she'll let Kathe Kline tag along as she goes through her retirement journey.