Written by: Jenna Kahn
Many times when we think of a mentoring relationship, we picture clearly defined roles: there is a mentor who is imparting their wisdom and knowledge, and there is a mentee absorbing what the mentor shares. In reality, the lines are much blurrier! A mentor and a mentee’s relationship is symbiotic at its core. Both individuals benefit from the exchange of ideas and support. While there may be specific boundaries that dictate the nature of the pairing, the ebb and flow of teaching and learning is what makes the relationship dynamic and, ultimately, most rewarding.
In my job as a private tutor, I have the special opportunity to work with young people and help them reach their academic goals. From the outside, it might look like I am exclusively mentoring. After all, I’m older and I’ve spent many more years in school than my students. It’s my job to either know or help them find the answers to their questions. In reality, our relationship is more complex. While I might be able to provide insight to guide them through their algebra homework, I am also a learner when we are together. Through our interactions, I learn more about how they see the world. Our time challenges me to consider new possibilities and continue the eternal practice of developing empathy. They share their joys, struggles, passions, and favorite memes. They love to introduce me to their favorite shows and songs, cracking up when I try to use the new words they teach me. Communication is not only in one direction – our dialogue allows us to grow, as a study team and as individuals outside of our hour or two each week.
Similarly, the friendships I’ve made through Woman to Woman offer chances for me to mentor and be mentored in an informal way. Even though there is no set structure to our shared time, we both give and offer advice, encouragement, and assistance. Some of my deepest connections are with women who have taught me new things. One of my friends also has her own business, and my favorite thing about our friendship is that we get to learn from each other. Even though we met in a more formal environment through Mentoring Circles, there is no permanent label of mentor or mentee; the back-and-forth is organic. The richness of our interactions nourishes all aspects of my life.
If you see yourself as exclusively a mentor or a mentee, I challenge you to question that label. I don’t think it’s ever as simple as being just one or the other. When we come together as women, our potential is exponentiated, both as givers and receivers. Regardless of age, title, or experience, we can nurture another’s emerging blossoms while deepening our own roots.