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4 Discoveries I Made Mentoring a Woman Making Positive Change

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." — Friedrich Nietzsche

You’ve probably seen memes of Fredrick Nietzsche’s quote as often as you’ve seen The Game of Thrones episodes, but have you seen Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s, Message from the Future? If not, I recommend you watching it  before you watch another episode of GOT.

It’s unfortunate, however, that AOC’s Message From the Future  may be the equivalent of a woman dancing to music other’s can’t hear.

Still, Ocasio Cortez is a brilliant example the of courage and vulnerability, required to shake things up and make changes we so urgently need today.

And she’s not alone.

Millions of women like her today— political and not— are making a positive change in their communities, businesses, and the world.

In her recent 2019 GLADD Media Awards acceptance speech, Madonna had this to say; “…As soon as you really understand what it means to love, …you understand what it takes to become a human being, and that it is every human’s duty to fight, to advocate, to do whatever we can and whatever it takes.”

Being a woman Madonna’s age, I’ve lived long enough to experience the truth in her words.

As I witness this wave of women rising up and loving enough to fight and advocate for change, I’m blown away by their intelligence and bravery, and inspired to do what I can to help.

Becoming a Mentor

While on Instagram earlier this year, I noticed a past co-worker’s feed filled with captivating images of Hawaii and an uplifting Aloha vibe. Juxtaposed were messages of the ecological mess and ethically irresponsible business of the fast fashion industry, peppered throughout her wall.

Clicking to her website, I learned she had designed an Eco-friendly, ethically made bathrobe as a means to educate consumers about the dirty business of fashion, become an active member of the #fashionrevolution (calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry), and use a portion of her proceeds to give back to environmentally and socially engaged non-profits.

Next thing I knew I was shooting her a private message, sending her a “high-five” emoji, and offering to help.

So began my mentoring of one young woman who heard the call, and acted on it, to advocate for a positive change.

If like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of great mentoring in your life, you may have already been paying those gifts forward, and if so, high-five …you’ve probably already discovered some of what I am now learning.

Here are the 4 discoveries I didn’t expect to make from being a mentor.

Discovery #1: I Need Them More Than They Need Me

It was Gandhi and his Satyagraha, or truth movement, which held the context that, “we need them more than they need us” — a pillar of that non-violent rebellion which brought liberation for a nation.

This passionate younger generation’s got their mojo workin’ and nothing is going to stand in her way.

If the future is going to be a place I imagine my unborn grandchildren will want to live, so by mentoring someone who’s in the trenches fighting to make a positive change — I need her more than she needs me!

Discovery #2: Context Changes the Game

You, me, and everyone has had the mutually gratifying experience of being the giver, and the receiver of a no-strings-attached gift.

We’ve also been on the slippery slope of “giving” when self-deprivation, or the subtle — and not so subtle — getting something in return is our motive.

In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, author Adam Grant had this to say about context and giving: “…and when participants read poems aloud until their voices were hoarse, they had no trouble complaining about the task. And when they complained, they didn’t sound hoarse anymore. According to Langer [researcher], they weren’t faking it. Rather, the change of context brought renewed energy.

This research was super cool, and a reminder too, of the importance of context.

There have been times when I’ve given my time, expertise, or wisdom purely to shine a light on others greatness or empower another to find their voice and their groove, and I’ve felt enlivened.

I’ve also given with motives to get something like recognition, approval, or some other form of repayment and I’ve felt diminished in some way, or icky.

But that hasn’t always been the case.

What I’ve found in the process, is that there is no “right way” to give; there’s no moral high ground, or perfect way to be a mentor… or a giver.

We’re complex, and every situation is different so in my view both motives can, and often do, co-exist.

So when we feel the need to give, I say give… within our means.

And since we learn by doing, we’ll discover for ourselves how context can change the game.

Discovery #3: You Can’t Take the Shit With You

Cliché or not, this mentor/mentee thing has given new meaning to this old adage.

Through the give and take of ideas, then stepping back to watch this young woman use what works for her, toss what doesn’t and tackle each challenge her own way, has been a delight and a process that has energized me, and filled me with a sense of lasting value.

In the end, my worth isn’t going to be measured by my the knowledge, wisdom I possessed, or — you name it — but by how much I cared and what I gave when I was able.

We can’t take any of the shit with us, anyway.

Discovery #4: We are whatever we have the courage to see!

I had no idea when I heard the call to mentor and said, yes to someone I love—doing something I admire—that I’d be the benefactor of her courage, tenacity, and her audacious view of a better future.

It takes a crap-ton of courage to boldly fight for change when the vast majority can’t see what needs to change… or they refuse to see it. 

As a mentor to one who sees such a need, I have become a small part of that change, and as Ocasio Cortez said in her film, “we will be whatever we have the courage to see.”

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