Last night, Mizoni, one of the Japanese students in my Pronunciation class, stuck out her freshly painted bright red toenails, and wiggled her toes, chanting “Red Sox! Red Sox!” as she pointed to her bare feet. I chuckled, but then got worried; this was an ESL class. Maybe she didn’t know the word for toe nails! Wanting to fulfill my teaching responsibilities, I launched into a vocabulary lesson on toes, toe nails, nail polish, socks, and baseball.
My sense of responsibility to teach spills over into my administrative role as well. The time has finally come when I am no longer the youngest person in the room at my many weekly meetings. Younger women are looking to me for leadership and advice. I want to deliver.
I was recently assigned a mentor and I met with her over tea this morning. I have been reflecting with her on my strengths and weaknesses, trying to figure out what I want to achieve in my work life, and what skills I need to develop to get there. She assured me that she doesn’t have the answers either, but that she could provide a safe place for me to talk about it, which is really all that I am looking for. For me, having an opportunity to discuss these things with a colleague is extremely valuable. Although academia is about learning, on the administrative side, we are expected to just figure things out. There seems to be an illusion that our work lives are more collaborative than those of the faculty. In reality, problem-solving is usually a solitary activity. People are often hesitant to take the risk of openly brain-storming in public. A mentoring relationship provides a safer space for sharing ideas and sparking creativity.
Being a mentor is making a commitment to someone in a caring way. A mentor prepares her protégés for changes that are about to come. She helps them understand change and provokes discussion about how to adapt to the changes when they do come. A mentor demonstrates the skills she has learned. A mentor asks questions, like “What have you learned from this experience?” and “How useful was it?” Mentors help protégés realize their potential. They also demonstrate that personal credibility is as essential to success as skills are, perhaps even more so.
In many ways, mentoring is like teaching. I established a teaching persona to demonstrate my credibility as a leader of the class. I create a safe space for students to take risks. I provoke students to reflect on their experience. I enjoy their humor and their unique personalities.
After her meeting with me this morning, my mentor was going off to have a manicure and pedicure with another young woman that she works with. I wonder if she chose Red Sox red.