10 Lessons I Learned From Having — and Then Losing — My Mentor

Her legacy continues to inspire me.

Dudarev Mikhail/ Shutterstock
Dudarev Mikhail/ Shutterstock

It was on a hike in Switzerland that she had me convinced it was all my idea: The blog I was going to start. The foundation of the dream I was going to pursue. Today.

I limped away from that hike with blisters on my feet, but the seed of an idea in my heart. Four years later, it’s more than a blog, it’s a business, and I have a life of following my passion.

But it started there, on that mountain in Switzerland.

Finding a Mentor

As a child, the people in my life I looked up to were mostly family. Some were teachers and coaches — people that naturally filled the spaces in my life.

As an adult, people come in and out of my life at a much more regular pace, and at a significantly higher volume. Yet the people who make a profound and lasting impact are fewer. It might be because, as an adult, I have a higher personal involvement in the direction of my life. Other people might provide inspiration, motivation, and influence. But ultimately, it’s my own action that determines the course of my life.

There have been some exceptions — people who have entered my life who have had an outsize impact, like a mentor who has inspired me, taught me many great lessons in life, and created a legacy that continues to inspire me.

The Beginning

I met Lynne the year I turned 30. I was home in Canada for my younger brother’s wedding. My uncle was also in town for the wedding. His daughter, my cousin, has come as well, and I was excited to see her. I was surprised when I saw there was a third person in their party. Lynne, my uncle’s partner, had joined them on the trip, and we were to meet for the first time.

Our initial meeting was not remarkable, which isn’t surprising, since we were preparing for a wedding, and it was busy. But we connected, and I was impressed by how seamlessly she became part of our crazy family dynamic.

Lynne entered my life at significant time. I had recently made the decision to turn my overseas trip into an overseas relocation. I was grappling with the decision to live on the other side of the world from my family, away from everything I knew. Having made the same decision years before, Lynne understood the challenges I faced. She recognized the importance of feeling connected to my family.

Initially, I connected with Lynne because we had a lot in common. I liked to craft and quilt, and Lynne was exceptional in this area. She could literally make anything out of anything. She also loved to travel, and she and my uncle visited us in Australia several times. Our blooming relationship also brought me closer to my uncle. This in itself was an incredible gift, both in the relationship itself, and for what it represented. Watching my brother’s children grow up without me being present was and is challenging. Growing close with my uncle who was also overseas during my childhood brought me hope.

My decision to live overseas did not have to come at the expense of a relationship with my niece and nephews.

What Having a Mentor Mean to Me

Over the years, we had many adventures together, including a hike in the mountains in Switzerland that resulted in the first version of my blog. I loved spending time with Lynne, and looked forward to every visit with a list of projects and ideas.

We didn’t just talk about things, we talked about ideas.

It wasn’t completely obvious at the time, but looking back, I can see how it happened. Lynne took my own stories and statements and re-framed them. She did so in a way that I was able to see the idea — the possibility I did have something to contribute. I left that conversation, like I had so many others, feeling empowered, inspired — and like it was all my idea. The seed was planted. It took a while to grow, but it was well and truly planted.

As my mentor, Lynne has taught me incredible lessons. Some of the lessons have been hard to learn. Others I didn’t even realize I was learning until afterwards.

A mentor, for me, is someone I am open to learning from because they are leading a life I admire. They’re also a person I look up to. I want to learn what they have to teach because I value the contribution they make, to my life, but to all those around them. I want to have that kind of impact, to be that kind of person. I want to inspire people around me.

Lynne was travelling with her husband in a country she loved when her battle with cancer ended. Above all the other lessons Lynne taught me, this one has had the most impact: follow my dreams and write, and aim to be the person I want to be now, because there is no point waiting until it is too late. In honour of this, after her death I wrote a list of all the incredible lessons she taught me as my aunt, my friend, frequently my editor, and my mentor.

At the time, I was not able to get past the list. I wanted to write about it, to write about her, to share a small piece of her legacy. But it was too fresh, and too painful. It has not yet been a year since Lynne died, but I do know something for certain. It’s time to start sharing what she taught me.

The Lessons My Mentor Taught Me

  • The best way to handle a difficult situation with grace and poise, while taking absolutely no bullsh*t from anyone. Delivering hard truths must be done with kindness and empathy. If you take the time to understand the actions of another person, you are much better able to offer help. When you take the time to develop a rapport, people will listen to what you have to say.
  • Don’t ask for advice you are not willing to receive. When asking, be articulate and specific. Being direct might feel awkward at first. But it makes for much more productive communication.
  • A great communicator is an excellent listener, someone who can sit back and watch a conversation. This is a perceptive way to notice who is following and understanding, and who is getting left behind. Speaking less is an excellent way to increase the impact of your words.
  • Patience is both a form of self respect and kindness. It brings out the best in adults, and allows the enthusiasm of children to be magical and celebrated.
  • Beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places: a broken plate, mismatched cups and saucers, the gum tree out in front of my house, or in people trying to move forward from a difficult past.
  • The difference between a hobby and a passion is your willingness to pursue it. Every excuse should be followed by the question “Why not?”
  • Not only do I have something of value to share with the world, I should be sharing it. Keeping it to myself is denying others of the opportunity to learn from it. Both me and my experiences have value.
  • Always use an editor.
  • Mistakes of the past are in the past. They do not define us, nor do we have to live in them.
  • Although we can’t always be with people when we want to be, we can choose to make the time we’re together count.
  • There is always the choice to fix what’s broken, put it behind us, or create something entirely new. The choice is ours to own, and there are no wrong answers.

The Loss of a Mentor

When grieving the loss of a mentor, it’s a confusing set of emotions. For me, I feel both love and grief. I also think about her husband, children, siblings, friends, and community — people who are more entitled to the pain of grief than I am. Sometimes grieving a mentor, even if they are a family member, is done at a distance.

Regardless of whether a mentor is a family member like mine, or someone you have never met in person, if they had impact on your life for the better, feeling grief at their passing is not something to hide or feel ashamed of.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Lynne would tell me.

I’ve come to realize that the best way to honour Lynne, my aunt and my mentor, is to live the lessons she taught me. As grateful as I am for the memories and this list of lessons, it’s now up to me to live them.

The important things in our lives — we need to do them for ourselves. If we’re not internally motivated, in the long run it will be impossible to sustain. But some days, internal motivation is hard. Some days, it’s just not enough. And on those days, I follow the lessons my mentor taught me, in her honour. On those days, that’s enough.

Lynne’s voice is the strongest for me when I write, when I create, and when I am teaching something to my son. I can hear her being calm, but firm, and always believing in me. It gives me clarity and makes me a better parent. And while I might not always live up to the lessons she has taught me, they give me something to strive for. Neither she nor I are perfect people. But I want to one day impact someone else’s life the way Lynne has mine.

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