All of us, whether we admit it or not, have had our lives enriched by a mentor. It could have been a teacher when we were younger, a colleague when we started our careers or a friend or stranger with more experience who offered help and guidance when we needed it.
A mentor can be someone who helps us over a period of years, or someone who materializes when we most need it and disappears. One thing is true of all mentors: they give of their time and experience, and both are invaluable.
I was sitting at home a few nights ago, studiously budgeting money and time for the holidays. Of the two, time is the most precious.
Around the same time, a letter arrived, asking me to attend a series of neighborhood meetings, the first of which is Dec. 10. GAK! I thought. Dec. 10?! As in two days before my huge holiday party? As in an entire evening devoted to neighborhood business during the busiest month of the year?! Bah Humbug!
I discussed it with others who had been asked to participate and one thing seemed clear. We had been asked because in our own ways, we have been mentors in the community. While the issues discussed at the meeting might not directly impact us, we were asked to be there because we can help the residents who are affected.
As a long-time neighborhood activist who already has volunteered hundreds of hours to the process of empowering and enriching my neighborhood, how could I refuse?
I looked around at friends and family members and realized how many of them are unpaid volunteers at various organizations. They devote their time (and money) to being Big Brothers and Big Sisters, to animal welfare groups and rescues, to neighborhood associations and activities, to church groups, to groups that promote diversity, to professional associations and to mentoring younger people in their professions. I have to admit: it left me a little faklempt (Yiddish for “overwhelmed” or “happy”). I realized how proud and fortunate I am to have these people in my life.
I know how much I value my “free” time. Time never is free. As the saying goes, when we come to the end of our lives, none of us is going to wish we had more money, but we all are going to wish we had more time. Yet my friends and family members devote signficant amounts of their time to helping others.
Perhaps it was my knowledge of their good works that made me ask the participants in our EHS Roundtable about mentoring future leaders. The futures of our professions rely on the ideas and enthusiasm that come from younger people just starting out in our industries. Their enthusiasm, tempered by our experience, will drive the future of EHS.
It almost was a rhetorical question (as you will see in their answers), because as leaders in their fields, they all are mentors. Some of them are mentors to coworkers or to others in the industry — some have mentored me, offering much-needed advice and guidance — while many are active as mentors for their professional associations. They actually identify ways to help young people starting out in the profession to succeed, because they know that their lives will be enriched by the efforts of these young professionals.
At this holiday season, I'd like to say that I'm grateful for the mentors who have smoothed my path, straightened my spine and given me a good push forward. I hope to continue in their footsteps by mentoring others.
I hope you and your families have a joyous holiday season, filled with enough time to enjoy the people you love. And once the holidays are over, consider donating some of your time to mentoring. It is a gift that gives back tenfold.
Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected].