Every week or two I spend time with a young man I have come to respect. He’s smart, creative, curious, and searching for a better way to identify and achieve his goals. So we sit and chat.
Sometimes we have coffee and a snack during a brief get together. Sometimes we jabber away for hours. The range of topics we cover is as big as all outdoors. There are no limitations on what might come up or where we might take the discussion.
He is a professional, I am his mentor. I’d like to believe I’m his friend, too.
Mentoring is one of those terms that comes up in conversation from time to time, usually in the context of, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to help these kids today get a better handle on things?”
It’s not nearly as popular an activity as it might be, though, and that’s a shame because it’s not hard, it’s not expensive, and it doesn’t really take up much of your time. There are no rules either.
The goal is so basic as to make mentoring a virtual slam-dunk for anyone who wants to give it a try. Basically, you’re passing along information. Information leads to inspiration, or insight, or confidence, or any number of things that might make the mentee’s experience less rocky and more productive.
If we were to reduce the mission statement to just a few words, they might be these: Mentors help mentees find their way.
The process can be quite long, lasting for years in some cases. Yet it can be surprisingly enjoyable. If you do it well a relationship develops.
In our case, that relationship is valued by both parties. We like each other. Maybe because our time together isn’t dominated by completely serious, nose-to-the-grindstone discussions. We laugh quite a bit. Admittedly, it’s not at all unusual for us to get into deep discussions about social issues, historical events, or personalities my mentee is interested in or curious about. And that’s all good stuff.
After all, I’m a chubby white guy in my mid-50s and he’s a fit young black man a whole generation younger than me. Somehow we find things to talk about that satisfy both of us. To be honest, finding those topics of conversation is a lot easier than you might imagine.
Earlier today he said, “I’m interested in flying.” That surprised me because I’m not making any attempt to turn him into a pilot, or a mechanic, or an aviation enthusiast of any kind. In fact other than a few meetings at my airport office, and a single occurrence of walking him out to an airplane and putting him in the pilot seat to shake things up a bit, I’ve never suggested he should consider flying.
You see how mentoring works? It’s subtle. What my mentee is getting out of the process is not limited to the topics we discuss. He’s also benefiting from seeing someone he respects do things he never even considered doing. He meets a wide array of people through me that he would likely never meet otherwise. Each of them brings something to his thought processes, too. And it is those thought processes that will lead this increasingly impressive young man to do big things one day.
Who knows? Maybe he will learn to fly one day. If he does I suspect he’ll find a way to pass his newfound interest in aviation on to his friends and neighbors — people whom I would not normally come in contact with.
Now I’m not suggesting that every pilot in America should rush right out and find a young person to mentor. No, not at all. They shouldn’t limit themselves to young people. Mentor anyone who expresses an interest in it. Can you imagine what an impact a couple hundred thousand aviation-friendly mentors could have on life in America?
Admittedly you can’t just go out and grab the first person you see by the lapels and announce in a loud, commanding voice that you intend to mentor them. That sort of things tends to get you locked up in a small room under professional observation. You can be a bit more diplomatic and stylish about your search for a mentee. But do it.
Your local high school may have a listing of students who are interested in making contact with local men and women who have experience in specific fields of endeavor. I have a friend who is involved in such a program in my city, and I’m pleased to say he hands off a small number of high school students to me each year who think they may be interested in a career in aviation. We talk, ride around the airport, stick our heads in some hangars, talk to the mechanics in the shop and that sort of thing. So far, so good.
Civic groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts may be able to identify teenagers who have an interest in whatever it is you do for a living. Your local Chamber of Commerce may include a young professionals sub-set where you can offer your services as a mentor.
What a great way to start off a new year, by making the decision to help someone else. Good on you for that one.