In my first job out of college, I struggled. One day, after making a number of errors in my work and feeling out of sorts, my supervisor pulled me aside and told me, “you are not stuck.” That was the exactly the feedback I needed to hear. I was worried that I was not advancing my career quickly enough. My anxiety was showing up in my work. Her feedback helped me understand how important it was to have colleagues that care enough about you to provide you with critical feedback.
I have been fortunate to have many colleagues who cared about me enough to give me honest, authentic, feedback that helped me move forward; who were able to provide me with good mentorship. I quickly learned that having more than one mentor can be beneficial, even necessary.
There are mentors for a season, a reason, and a lifetime.
Mentorship relationships are, in many ways, similar to all other relationships. I have a handful of mentors that I have continued to connect with through job changes and moves across the country. I check on them, they check on me, and I often call them when I am making a big career decision. Many colleagues helped me problem solve a specific situation, a reason. Other relationships formed when a mentor and I were dealing with similar issues, which provided an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship for a period of time, a season.
Mentors can be specialized.
My mentors include colleagues in my unit, administrators, professors, and professional outside of higher education entirely, including nonprofit managers, and entrepreneurs. This diverse group people provide me with a host of perspectives that allow me to think more critically and creatively. When I was new at an institution, one colleague I met early on helped me understand the university culture. She spoke professionally, candidly, and encouraged me to ask questions. Another colleague always encouraged me to take on more challenging roles and projects and continues to, even several years later.
Mentors have been in my shoes before.
Everyone has been a new professional. All of my colleagues who are in higher level positions had to go through a process to get there. I’m fairly certain that these colleagues had mentors who helped them move through the different stages of their career. Because they have been there, they are often happy to accept a coffee invitation to share their insights. Creating a network can be challenging. I found success in asking colleagues for connections. I first asked my supervisor for the names of two or three people that I should connect with to better understand my role. As I met with folks, I continued to ask for more suggestions, sometimes, asking about folks who may be able to talk with me about specific issues. Colleagues have always been generous enough to support me in growing my mentorship network.
Mentoring is just as important as finding my own mentors.
I learn just as much about myself through mentoring others. Reflecting on my lessons learned with professionals that are seeking out my perspective allows me to hear my story in a new way; from the lens of someone who else in their own growth process. Supporting someone through their growth process has not only been good for me, but I know it is good for the institutions I work for and more broadly, the profession.
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Staci Daniels-Sommers is a licensed psychotherapist, educator, and diversity consultant, with over ten years of experience in higher education, nonprofits, and start-ups. She has led several large scale civic engagement and community-based learning programs at both large and mid sized research universities. She is also a trained intergroup dialogue facilitator, and had consulted with K-12 schools and universities, supporting efforts to implement diversity and social justice curriculum. She has a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan with a focus on practice in the school setting.