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The Value of Mentoring

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." – Winston Churchill

There is a steep learning curve to life. We figure life out as we go along, and oftentimes do not understand how something has an impact on us, until only later. In between taking life as it comes our way and from learning from hindsight, mentoring seems well-placed to bridge this gap by providing us with some sort of guidance as we navigate through life.

Mentoring refers to the process by which a more experienced individual guides a lesser experienced person.

Mentoring can take place in any setting so long as the elements of learning and guidance are involved. As such, mentoring provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact adolescents, who are just beginning to develop their individual sense of identity – and impact their subsequent course in life. The main purpose of mentoring is to inspire confidence in the mentee to rise above and be more than who he/she currently is.

We see this tremendous potential at work in the MY Mentoring programme that Metropolitan YMCA runs in secondary schools. Our mentees are lower secondary school students with a need to increase their self-esteem and confidence, and our mentors are undergraduate volunteers motivated by a common desire to befriend and guide the students along in their development. The mentoring relationship provides the mentee with an additional role model to learn from, which is especially beneficial for those mentees who lack a positive role model at home. The students look forward to the company of their mentors each week (the programme runs for 10 weeks). More encouragingly, we have students who displayed positive changes in their outward behaviour as a result of the mentor's support.

The relationship between mentor and mentee can be said to be the key ingredient for a successful mentoring programme.

Developing the mentoring relationship requires effort, and every opportunity to understand the mentee better should be grasped. Beyond the traditional sit-and-talk setting, interactive activities are useful in uncovering insights into the mindset of the mentee, providing opportunities for the mentor to give relevant advice and specific guidance, thereby improving the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship.

For one iteration of the MY Mentoring programme, a game of captain's ball was played, and this provided an opportunity for the mentors to learn more about their students. For example, at various points while playing, one of the students, feeling demoralised and rejected at rarely receiving the ball, repeatedly made comments along the lines of "I shouldn't be playing" or "I'm invisible". During the sharing session afterwards, a group of students downplayed any positive assessment of their performance with a negative comment. Playing together helped the mentors identify specific areas to work on with their students; in this case, it was low self-esteem and the need to build self-confidence.

Challenges in the mentoring process can arise when the mentee is not an active participant, or not being receptive and responsive to the mentor's efforts.

There was a situation from another iteration of MY Mentoring in which one student remained ambivalent towards the assigned mentor throughout the programme. Even as we continually teach individuals how to be an effective mentor, perhaps, an equal amount of attention should also be allocated to teaching how to be a good mentee.

Because of the responsibilities of being a mentor, self-care is a necessary life skill.

After all, how do you mentor others if you cannot take care of yourself? Being part of a network of mentors provides much needed support. In this manner, a mentor can also become a mentee. Regardless of the roles we choose to play, there is always something to learn from others, and it is this continuous process of teaching and being taught that we develop ourselves. At MY Mentoring, we have had the privilege of having a very supportive teacher-in-charge. Besides shedding light on the background of the students, the teacher also provides advice on how to manage the students. For the mentors, this greatly improves their mentoring and interpersonal skills.

It is almost a cliche nowadays to proclaim that the greatest satisfaction in life is knowing that you have made a difference in the lives of others. But just because it is a cliche does not make it any less true.

Admittedly, you will not know how much impact you have had until years later, but this process can only begin with you planting the first seed of growth, no matter how small.

A mentoring relationship, as with all our relationships, is ultimately about leaving an indelible mark on someone else – and that is how we all grow.

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