By Kendra Roberts, Vice President of Operations, HumanGood
Mentorship is one of the greatest joys of my day-to-day work. Michelle Obama taught us, “When you have worked hard, and done well, and walked through that door of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” I hope that my work reflects a life that is grateful for the opportunities that I have received. For me, success is not a title or accolades. Success is seeing young professionals, especially people of color walk through doors that have not always been accessible, opened widely because maybe I have played a small part in helping them get there.
One would think that the benefit or gratification would come from the mentee — the person on the receiving end. However, throughout my journey I have learned that it is the mentor who gains so much more from the relationship, the experience, the conversations and the individual. The mentee will teach you so much more about yourself than maybe you believed you taught them. Mentorship gives me a few things that I would like to highlight:
Perspective: It’s not about me! It doesn’t matter how well I have done or what position I achieve, if other professionals that look like me are not coming behind me, my work has been in vain. I am committed to providing paths of opportunity for people of color, especially in the Aging Services field. There are not enough of us here and that needs to change. “You can’t be what you can’t see!” I want people of color to see that any position is attainable in our field. Once I realized that this was the goal, it changed my perspective on how I showed up and how I used my area of influence.
Joy: Nothing brings me more happiness or satisfaction than to receive a phone call or text message from someone telling you they got the job, they received the internship, or that they got into the college they have been praying about. Once you decide to mentor you agree to go on a journey with a person. You decide that you are going to walk with them through the highs and lows of their experiences. And there will be lows — rejection, missed deadlines, another candidate was a better fit — but there will also be a joyous occasion of knowing that finally that door has been opened. As a mentor you want to be there when that door opens — to celebrate and congratulate them for winning that leg of the race.
Grace: Working with mentees opens your eyes to the challenges that many younger professionals are experiencing — especially people of color. It is very hard to make that connection or meet the right person who can help you if you are not in the right circle or don’t know the right person. We all know everything is about relationships. But if you look like me, those relationships don’t come as easy. Things are done and words are said to young professionals that can be hurtful. I remember early in my career riding in the elevator with senior executives, and they wouldn’t speak to me. I have learned that I need to extend grace and help young professionals navigate these situations as they come.
Acceptance: The challenge is when you want more for the person than they want for themselves. As a mentor I think that you have to be honest about when you have to step back. Early on in my mentoring journey, I would get frustrated when I would see all of this built-up potential in a person and from my viewpoint, feeling like they weren’t living up to that potential. As a result, I would push, ask questions and inquire as to why they weren’t doing this or that — sometimes to be disappointed with that response. But now I see that one of the awesome joys of mentoring, is meeting people where they are at in their journey. Not putting my expectations on a person, but lovingly pushing them into what they want for their lives. So now one of my first questions for anybody is, “What do you want?”
I would encourage anyone with any kind of influence to get a mentee. It is one of the most gratifying experiences that any person could have. Professional networking, mentors, and connections are critical in people of color excelling into leadership roles. We need to be intentional about helping to create those opportunities. I am grateful for those who helped me along my journey and invited me into spaces that did not come naturally. It made all the difference.