Be Who You Needed When You Were Young

I’ve heard this quote from time to time in conversations when people are talking about purpose. I think it resonates with me on a multitude of levels. The first is because, like most people, I think about what it was I needed when I was younger. But secondly, the quote makes me thinking about mentorship- an idea I value, but also have not really had.

If you have a mentor you probably understand why this could be a big thing. If you haven’t had one, let me explain. A mentor is supposed to someone who is where you want to be in some area of life or is in a particular position where they can give guidance on career trajectory based on their experiences and what they’ve learned along the way. For example, a lot of my friends that are really making strides in terms of their careers and whatnot have had mentors and often talk about running things by them before they proceed with endeavors. Even strangers make the assumption that I have one, because it such a common place thing (at least it seems to be in my profession). For example I was at a conference this fall and someone approached me afterward to compliment me about the paper I had presented. She mentioned, assuming, that I likely had a former professor or mentor that I sent my work to for feedback and seemed shocked when my expression or reaction clearly showed that was not the case.

And so it’s been frustrating to me to not have that kind of advice or mentoring. I don’t have anyone to send my scholarly work to for critique except my homegirl who is my colleague and peer. (But lucky for me she is an editing wiz- she edited my dissertation – and does the damn thing with her own work. I feel really blessed to have a superwoman type-friend.) I’ve for sure had those “appointed mentors” – like those you are assigned to when you’re in college or the mentor you’re matched with as a new faculty member when you get a job. But even in those situations they have generally been people who I have been assigned to and therefore not necessarily connected to. In the times when I have been matched with someone they have generally been knowledgeable in the sense that they’d had the position that I was in longer than me, but the had not completed the goals I was looking to complete . Essentially the main thing we had in common was our professions, but not the outside goals and acclaim that meant moving beyond the job.

The flip side of this lack of a mentor is that it’s made me realize that I want to give back. I know that when I get to a certain point I want to be able to mentor others and give to them what was never given to me. I want to be the sounding board for someone else that wants to hash out ideas or figure out their next steps. As is I seem to be drawn to finding out what people’s passions and drive are (I mean I ask a question to that effect on most first dates, I ask strangers. I guess you could say I’ve got a thing for finding out people’s passions in life). I see myself playing that role for others.

Even aside from mentoring, when I think about the kind of things I want to create in terms of writing, I think about how I want to create something that the younger me wishes she had during crucial times in life. I still remember the music that was coming out when I was in my early 20’s after I had first graduated from undergrad. What etched so much of that music from Linkin Park and Aaron Lewis in my heart was that I was finally hearing someone else vocalize some of the things I’d been feeling during those angsty teenage years. I remember thinking to myself – “Where was this when I was younger?” Those thoughts are what made me see that maybe I could make my writing be like that – I could write the stuff that I wish I had to turn to when I was that age. I may not write music but I can definitely write words. I can be that voice.

Things work in a cyclical motion in life. Like I’m always saying, everything comes full circle. There are certain experiences that are just part of the human condition that regardless of generation are similar. So when I start questioning why I am so obsessed with telling stories, sharing experiences and truth telling, I have to remember that even if what I write affects only 1 person, then I have done enough. There is someone out there that is going to appreciate and/or get something from a story I. Honestly, that is the best feeling to me: whe

A Talk Between Angela Davis and Melissa Harris Perry at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. January 22, 2017

In January I had the privilege of hearing Angela Davis speak at Busboys and Poets, and one of the many things she said that stood out was this idea that we need community. As she explained, without community we can feel like it’s just us alone going through things, which can in turn really make you lonely.  I think we know that loneliness sucks. But there are ways to create community. Mentoring is one. Being a voice that others can relate to simply by telling your truth is another. Be who it is you needed when you were younger, even if what you needed was a platform, community, the feeling that someone gets you, etc. All of these things are important.

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