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The ‘Inexperienced’ Mentor

Updated: Oct 10

Today's article comes from Taye Folk, an eMMissary from our fourth cohort. As a recent college graduate, she's dealt with a feeling or two about being inexperienced and shares those thoughts here.

“Master”, “Savant”, “Expert”, “Guru”, “Elder”, and “Wise” these are just some of the words that may come to mind when we think of the word Mentor. As kids, Master Splinter, Mr. Feeny, Professor Dumbledore, and Yoda are the mentors that books and movies show you... they fit all of the aforementioned words. They’re wise, been alive for years (or lived a few lives) and have all the knowledge to make you better. When you meet them, they have been waiting for this moment, they have been knocked around by life, learned all the tricks, and practically begged for a bright-bushy eyed-student like the Turtles, Cory, Harry Potter, or a Padawan so that they can craft them into the next success. Even the ‘legends’ that we know were mentored by legends that came before them; Oprah Winfrey by Maya Angelou, Mother Teresa by Father Michael van der Peet, Plato by Socrates, and so on. In my mind, being a mentor was something that I couldn’t be until I had been in my career for a decade at least and was an expert on something.

“Hey, do you want to mentor a few high schoolers making the transition from high school to college?”

Mentor. Mentor? Mentor?!? How? I am a college student. In fact, I am a first semester freshman who started college about 3 months ago… why are you asking me to be a mentor? How could I even begin to be in that role? That’s an expert, a wise one, someone who has thousands of stories type of role... I have maybe, two. Honestly, I am still not confident about the whole process at this point; I am still questioning if I even made the right decision about my college. Again, how could I be a mentor?

Nonetheless, I decided to help out with the program (we’ll come back to the why in a bit) and I was a college freshman helping high school juniors and seniors prep and make that transition. I helped them study for the SAT, ACT, ASVAB and gave them my two-sense on which one they should take. I helped them apply to colleges, make profiles on CommonApp, apply to scholarships, and figure out what majors were even interesting to them. It was a truly rewarding year, these were the students who would be first-generation college students and came from hard and low socioeconomic populations. These were the kids who were bullied and ignored and mistreated - I could relate. I learned from them and I’d like to say they learned from me. I still keep in touch with some of them and I actually got to a tour guide for some of them and/or one of the first to welcome them to campus when they came to my school (yes, I stayed!)

Let’s go back to why I decided to help with the program.

When I posed the question of “How could I be a mentor when I’m still learning and struggling myself” to the program coordinator he looked at me, chuckled, and blindsided me when he said “that’s why you’re the perfect fit”. He let me in on a little secret. A mentor can be both the wise elder that you see in the books but also a peer only a few years older or even inexperienced. Sometimes that mentorship of just relating to the struggle at that same moment is more fitting than “Oh, it was the same when I went through it... twenty years ago”. The relevancy I had of just taking the SAT less than six months ago was more effective than the program coordinator could give. More importantly, the relationship and friendship that I could build with the high schoolers was to a level that the coordinators could never foster in the same way. He was right - I was the perfect fit. What I viewed as inexperience he viewed as a relatable and growing experience. What he saw in me and what my cohort found in me helped me realize that mentors can be ‘inexperienced’ and have just the right amount of experience at the same time. I wasn’t a master, but I was a step up from padawan and that was just enough.

To me, mentors are sacred, mentors are family, and people willing to grow and learn. A mentor can be an 18-year-old kid teaching a 16-year-old kid how to make that jump from high school to college and still have so many questions and so few answers. A mentor can be a 22-year-old helping another 22-year-old learn more about their community. A mentor could be a 12-year-old teaching a 16-year-old how to code. Mentorship goes both ways and the inexperienced, younger one can mentor the older and wiser one. Cory and the Ninja Turtles showed Feeny and Splinter the love and comfort that comes from family. Harry taught Dumbledore that you must confront history. We can’t all be masters of everything; the real secret is you are inexperienced. We are all inexperienced mentors. Keep learning, keep growing, keep mentoring.

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