I’ve had five mentors over my thirty-plus year career. We never labeled our relationships as mentor/mentee and likely some of them never realized I saw them in this way. These are random people in my work-life who modeled values, skills, and insights that I admired - people I aspired too. Five people I still think about when there are difficult decisions to make. Five whose names are common in conversation at my dinner table. Five who stuck.
If you know me well you realize that I don’t admire and aspire easily. In fact, I’m more inclined to critique and complain. I go about my business and keep my head-down, watching the show of people. I often associate it with the tv-show, The Office. Here we have a cast of characters and motivations - negotiating attention, authority, respect, and relationships. Quirky characters who can be all-the-things, but are ultimately just humans being. Funny, mostly. Naturally, I cast myself as the lead and break the fourth-wall with looks and smirks that speak - did you see that? Naturally.
This is a coping mechanism I use to view my work-life and the people within it, you included. We are on a sitcom about higher education and you play a role. People are largely performative by nature and always signaling some alternate agenda, so why not? This puts things at a safe distance and helps me manage the frustrations of organizational realities and humans being. It helps me see the good parts and brush-off the other, like on The Office.
No one is perfect and I’m certainly not Jim Halpert. We’re certainly not on a tv-show and I’m not a star. You are not Dwight, probably. And I’m not playing secret games with you for entertainment, likely. These are just the lenses I choose to wear, and the stories I choose to tell. Stories that include my accidental mentors over the years and how they got through to me. Mentors who were not perfect but who were ultimately heartfelt and broke through my fourth-wall. Did you see that? - they still say to me.
These have been accidental mentors as I have never actively sought mentorship, it just happens. As the seasons evolve and I get to know characters, a quiet bond with some individuals can develop. Respect. Integrity. Admiration. Connection. Although I maintain a remote view - as any audience does - some characters draw me in and immerse me in their story. They make me connect and care, against my will; damn it. Work-life and home-life start to blend as we get to know each other and we swap family tales, we might even hang-out beyond work. We sometimes debate and disagree, but we always reconcile. Years pass and it becomes unspoken but obvious that the workplace sitcom is really a family sitcom, and I care much more than intended.
Mentors make this happen. They become a part of our real-lives, as they occupy our conversations, our thoughts, and our aspirations. They become ingrained in our thinking and our wondering during off-hours. Emotional investment in a place and in a people happens, whether we want it or not. Things get real. This is mentorship, as I’ve experienced it.
Thank you Rebecca for breaking my fourth-wall. Thank you for the eye-contact. Although I prefer the audience view from a safe distance, you've seen me and drawn me in. You made me care, damn it. And yea - I saw it too. I will be thinking and wondering about you for seasons to come.