Grown Up: Guiding lights

How did you find your mentor?

Was it like in the movies? Did you sit down with said mentor and say, “I want to be your mentee? Will you mentor me?”

In the movies, I think it always involved shoulder pads and a perm.

Maybe not.

When trying to insert a memorable, woman-to-woman mentoring movie plot, I came up short. Even my Google search was the electronic equivalent of tumbleweeds.

Hello, Bueller?

In fact, shortlist.com’s “Top 50 Movie Mentors” only had one female movie mentor: Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Alien,” Ellen Ripley, was No. 41.

So why do men get all the screen time in roles as trusted and experienced advisers?

Most of my mentors, except for one, have been women. I don’t think I consciously made this choice. When I look back at my work history and education, I’ve had more Maine mentors who were women than I can count. I wasn’t drawn to them because of their gender. Instead it was their work ethic and their experience that made me crave their guidance.

There was the boss at my first job who taught me the value of being kind while still being an authority figure.

My English and humanities teachers who cultivated a love of literature so deep that I had to keep studying the subject and eventually major in it at college.

The journalism professor who insisted on emphasizing mastery of the basics (hello, inverted pyramid), while simultaneously pushing me to know every aspect of journalism and printing.

My post-college boss, who showed me that working hard and getting the job done, no matter what, gets you far.

My fellow graphic designers and writers who taught me there is always more to learn, more stories to tell, everyday creative inspiration all around – and, of course, lifesaving shortcuts to make a project happen in 5 minutes, when it should take 10.

My longtime editor who intimidated me at first but taught me more about grammar than school did. And who shared in the pride of a job well done and never, ever settling for mediocre.

Current creative mentors whose skill and ability, especially under pressure, are inspiring and wondrous. Their ability to create beautiful things that are unexpected and unconventional energize me to be better and think differently.

Looking back on the professional relationships that have shaped me, I realized none of these women and I talked about being mentors. It’s only with time and after the fact that you realize the bond that was forming.

Many of these relationships started in formal settings. The beginning was nerve-wracking and often filled with doubt: Was there anything to learn from this person or would an understanding of each other ever be reached? In each case, putting in time and working together calmed nerves and the relationship would become mutually beneficial, to the point where mentors and mentees had a level of earned respect, often becoming friendly.

It’s really an incredible experience. Perhaps because I am a bit of a workaholic, all of my mentors have turned into confidants I cherish for professional and personal advice.

I think my next mentor, Tina Fey, said it best on an episode of “30 Rock”: “I just wanted you to know that I’ve loved being your mentor. It’s been an honor having you be my manatee.”

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