A mentoring experience that changed my way of thinking

By Mark G. Auerbach

Three years ago, I wrote a piece for Succeeding in Small Business about the gift of mentoring–how it benefits the mentor as well as the person being mentored. I described my experiences being mentored, my experiences mentoring, and recommended the experience enthusiastically.

It’s been one of the articles I’ve written that gets the most feedback. Some people want to know what happened to John Arvanitis, the recent graduate of Western New England University who was ready for next steps. He has been an administrative assistant at Take Magazine, and has honed his skills as a contributing writer on a myriad of topics for Take. Others want to know if I would mentor them. As a result of these queries, I helped a college journalist edit her essay for her Fulbright application, and I helped another fine tune his radio producing skills.

But, an experience mentoring this year has changed my perspective on many levels. My close friend, a high school teacher, works with another teacher, whose son, a high schooler finishing his junior year, got a job as our condo lifeguard. I subsequently hired the young man to work part-time for me on some concert events. He’s reliable, prompt, conscientious, and easy-going.

He knew that I write for a living, and he approached me one day to proof a book report he’d written for his English class. I had read the book he’d been assigned, and was impressed at his grasp of his subject matter, his clarity in communicating, and his writing choices. He is more mature than his contemporaries, and he communicates in language and style on an adult level. His work was easy to edit, just a couple of typos, and some misplaced or lacking commas, and plurals–not his fault, because he hasn’t been taught writing skills on the same level that I was in high school.

He asked me to review his next essay, in which the teacher had asked him to share his worldview in context with the books and films he’d studied in class. He presented me with a compelling, deeply personal and beautifully written-from-the-heart assessment of what makes him tick, what motivates him, and what is essentially his personal mission statement. All it needed were some grammatical fixes. I cautioned him about revealing too much information to a teacher he didn’t know outside of class. He had no qualms. He was sure of his mission.

I recommended that he use this essay as the foundation of the college application essays he’d be submitting in late summer. We spent the summer as writer and editor, fine-tuning his work to meet the essay requirements of the application. He wrote multiple drafts, I reviewed them and we discussed them, and the essay evolved as he reconsidered its elements. He showed his work to a couple of other professionals he trusted. The final draft was submitted to ten colleges.

At press time, he’s been accepted by three, and I am as thrilled for him as are his parents. Seeing someone evolve from raw talent to convincing writer was a wonderful experience for me, and I’m blessed to have had this opportunity come my way.

What I personally gained from mentoring, and what mentoring has done to make me better at business…

– Clarity of communication. When you’re mentoring an individual or a client, and realistically, any of us who consult are mentoring our clients, clarity in communication is essential. You can’t be goal-oriented if you can’t communicate the expected end result clearly and how to reach that goal in a comprehensible way. When you and your client understand expectations and feel comfortable with the path, the results are better achieved.

– It’s essential to listen. Your client hires you because he or she trusts your expertise. When you listen to their concerns, you’re better able to address them. Good listeners are good collaborators.

– Share the enthusiasm. When you see your client recognized, congratulate them. Make them feel valued, and they’ll value you all the more.

– The opinions of novices can be as valid as those coming from people who have done their work for years. Those opinions are fresh takes from eyes and ears that are more tech savvy, more energetic, and less prone to the “that’s how we’ve always done it” syndrome.

I guess one can teach this old dog new tricks. This dawg picked up some new ones from a young man one-third his age.

__________

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. He’s also a part-time arts reporter for print and broadcast. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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