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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Winter 2010, Issue VIII Mutual Affinity in Mentoring

Mutual Affinity in Mentoring

An article about Mentoring by Drew Middlebrooks, one of our long-time Program Coordinators.

By Drew Middlebrooks, Program Coordinator 

a great many things from mentoring, among them mentoring has reminded me the importance of meeting life half way.   It’s not enough to articulate to the universe what one wants or needs, one has to take a step (many actually) toward meeting the universe, or the gifts don’t bear fruit.  Nothing risked, nothing gained.  This reminds me of a story I recently heard. 

A man travels to the town center, sits under a statue of a saint, and prays for hours that he might win the lottery.  His prayers are deep and heart-felt, and he keeps this up every day, rain, sleet and sun, for an entire year.  The spirit of the Saint, so moved by his earnestness and persistence, embodies the statue and brings it to life in order to tell him one thing, “Please, please, sir, would you buy a lotto ticket”. 

I once heard Michael Meade, a storyteller and mythologist, tell a story about a mentoring workshop he was facilitating where the youth present had to pick a mentor amongst the many mentors who volunteered.  There was a very large, intimidating, young African American man from the inner-city present, and there was some interest in who he would choose as a mentor.   Amongst the volunteers, there was a very petite and frail older Caucasian woman.  Without hesitation, he chose her as his mentor for the workshop.  As it turned out, she was a librarian and he was illiterate.  They worked together and a longer relationship formed.  In the process of teaching him how to read, she mentored him, heard his story, and helped empower him to be a person of inner strength and compassion. 

Taking an active role in selecting one’s own mentor, empowers not only the mentee, but also the mentor.  Our world is in great need.  We are constantly reminded of how much work is needed to fix education, the environment, our political system, our health care system, and much more.  We are inundated by the endless asks of many organizations for our time, money, and our signature.   Being reduced to numerical support can make us numb, disconnected, and helpless or uninspired to change anything.  I feel like we all want to be of service in some capacity, but we also have a longing to feel connected, to be needed and identified for our unique gifts, and to make a tangible difference.   

When a person, especially a youth, comes to you without solicitation, and has identified you as someone they would like mentorship from, it is not only a great honor but it meets the basic needs to be connected and in service through one's unique gifts and experiences. It also shows that what you have to offer is valued enough to risk rejection. It becomes not only a reciprocal relationship, but more importantly, it is a relationship that mirrors the dynamics of the natural world.   Just as evaporated water in the clouds falls back down, connecting heaven and earth, and nourishing all living things, the waters of wisdom flow to the following generations and help them grow.  The fire of youth returns vitality and warmth, keeping the child in ourselves alive, reminding us of our own forgotten story, the importance of play, and keeps us humble by reminding us that we are still fumbling our way through life.

As we become older, our value to life is measured by how much of what we received in life we can return.  A healthy hemlock tree, growing in a healthy community of trees, reaches to the sky as it grows.  As it does, it lets go of what no longer serves it by dropping its lower limbs to nourish the forest floor, thus allowing light to filter through to nourish the plants and shrubs below.  Just as the light of the sun in indiscriminate with its gifts, the hemlock's limbs nourish all things below, hemlock and non-hemlock alike. It does not dictate how the other plants use its nourishment and when they come to fruit. It does not concern itself with what the fruits of these other plants taste like.  The old librarian of Michael Meade’s story is a beautiful example of this. She returned the gifts that were brought alive in her, gave of herself in a way that ultimately served a youth from a very different background and culture, and without attachment to outcomes.  

Of the many youth that I mentor outside of programs, all but one I have met while teaching in a program or leading a trip.  This not only allows me to get to know them in a deeper way, but also allows time for natural affinity.  Many of these youth I have been a part of their lives long enough to see them through high school and out into the world of the work place and/or college.  The story of the one mentee that I did not meet on a trip is worth telling.

Last year I was not able to lead my usual trips due to complications from parasites.  I love facilitating these trips and I look forward to them all year long.  The loss I was feeling about my inability to go out into the great cathedral of the Olympic Mountains with another amazing group of youth, was interrupted by an unexpected email notice from Facebook.  One of the youth who had signed up for the Solo Crossing trip, a program that I have enjoyed leading for a number of years, went to the Journeys website to look up more about the trip, and to learn who might be leading the trip.  In addition to wanting to know more about the leaders of the trip, he had questions about our requirements for bringing a mentor from his own life to the first day’s send-off.  So, after looking at my bio on the website, he did what no other youth had ever done before prior to a trip; he looked me up and “friended” me on Facebook.   There, he introduced himself and asked his questions.  I told him that I wasn’t able to lead the trip that summer, told him a little about the trip, asked him some questions, and assured him that he was in good hands with my stand in.  After having the chance to look at each other’s pages, we realized we had some things in common and soon started writing about broader topics.  I offered to stand in as his mentor for the trip, but let him know that I wanted to meet him first.  I also let him know that I was willing to consider a longer term relationship if we both felt it was a good fit.

Over days and weeks, we continued to chat, and agreed on a day to meet.  On his own, by bus or foot I’m not sure, he travelled the two miles from home and met me at Red Mill Burgers on Phinney Ridge, as it was near a class I was taking.  We walked and talked for hours, without direction or goals, wandering the many landscapes with our feet, minds, and hearts.  There was a natural ease to our interaction, which created fertile ground to go deep and ask challenging questions.   The depth of the conversations were not only a testament to his comfort, but also to the importance of affinity between a mentee and his/her mentor, and the power of a mentee seeking out and choosing a mentor for them self.  We have been meeting and conversing for about four months now.  It is as strong if not stronger than many of the mentor/mentee relationships I have had with youth where I have had the benefit of spending three intense weeks together.

This relationship and the nature of its beginning, has been mirrored in many others over the last couple of years.  In the early years I offered to be a mentor to many youth.   Most lasted only as long as the trip I led.  Many I followed up with over time to hear their unfolding story.  Some of those that continued after the trip ended, petered out in the months that followed.  A few continue to grow and evolve, ebb and flow as is natural.  Where I feel like there has been no wasted energy, I have found that the more I live my life as authentically and inspired as I can, and waiting for those to approach me for what they need, the more sustainable, effective, and nourishing my time as a mentor becomes.  


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