Have you ever wondered why it seems easy for some people to make good decisions in their careers and not others? Or why some bounce back a lot easily when they fall, so to speak? Or why others seem to have lots of information about what is happening in their fields? The answer is both simple and hard. Simple because these seemingly more successful and surer people you interact with just happen to have someone called a mentor, a person that adds a more experienced perspective to their lives so that, for example, they learn in two hours lessons that would have taken them half of their career lives to learn - they tend to move faster in their careers, and there is someone constantly on standby to offer advice.
Now to the hard part. People with mentors have to work extra hard to keep up with their teachers, be teachable and 100 per cent committed to learn and give of themselves for the fruits to manifest.
This week, we interviewed four young people who talk about the advantages of having a mentor.
Name: FADHILI OGOVA
Intern architect at Kubuni Studio
When Fadhili, 25, started his internship as a student architect at Kubuni Studio, he did not have any elaborate plans of landing himself a mentor that will walk with him along his professional path.
“I was working under the owner’s (Antonio Ombati) direct supervision, and it was while working with him that I realised that he possesses the qualities that I would want to develop in myself as I nurtured my career,” Fadhili says regarding the initial construction of his relationship with his mentor, Antonio, who has worked with him for three years now.
We live in a sea of people, and identifying that one person that can work well with you as a mentor may not be easy. “A mentor does not always have to come from your field, there is something that will draw you to them – it could be the way that they work, it could be the admirable way in which they handle challenges at work… it could be anything,” Fadhili says of how to identify a mentor. In his own case, there has never been any “official communication” about their mentoring relationship, and although this is unvoiced, it is very clear that there is a strong mentor-mentee relationship between them. If you are looking for where to begin – if your potential mentor is not a colleague - look at the character of the individuals that you interact with and put that against what you want for yourself; look at their poise or just something about them that appeals to you.
From his mentor, Fadhili has picked due diligence and high moral values. Having a mentor has also given him a window through which to look at the intricacies of his field because not everything that he learnt at the school of architecture turns out to be a perfect fit in the real world where architecture is practiced.
“There are times when I try my best and I still get stuck during projects and this can get very frustrating, but if you have a mentor, then you have someone to guide you through,” explains Fadhili.
On the whole, mentorship is a very important component of building one’s career, and some of the benefits Fadhili outlines are: having a mentor gives you the chance of learning from another person’s experiences and you are able to avoid some unnecessary drawbacks as you grow in your career.
“There is so much more to your career than what you studied in school, and the easiest way to learn this is by having mentors who have done it all before you,” Fadhili says.
And like in any good relationship, respect is very important in this relationship, you have to know your limits. You also need to be able to trust this mentor and feel comfortable enough to ask him or her any questions that you might have.
Fadhili’s mentor, Antonio, points out that mentoring is beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee. From a career point of view, one is constantly on a trajectory of growth, and mentorship helps to speed up this growth: to ensure that one is continually taking a step up the ladder. Rarely does one grow on their own.
“No one has the monopoly of knowledge, and there is always the opportunity to learn and grow. Mentoring provides one of these avenues. I was once an understudy to someone who passed on some of the knowledge that I have today, so in a way, mentoring is my way of upholding something that once benefitted me,” Antonio says.
NAME: ELIKA MALESI
Volunteer at Students Leaders Ambassadors Programme
Elika met her mentor, Leunida Openda, in 2012 right after she completed high school.
Her decision to look for a mentor was informed by the need she felt she had for guidance by someone who was more experienced than her in the school of life. She describes Leunida as her social mentor.
“As a young person, I felt that I needed to live responsibly and make the right choices, so I decided to enlist the help of someone who could help me do this,” Elika says.
She met Leunida in church, where she was serving as a deaconess. She was drawn to her leadership style and how she managed her duties and responsibilities at home. After their initial interactions, her mentor showed interest in her life and that made it easy for Elika to request her to be her mentor.
“I singles her out because she had the qualities of a woman I could look up to,” Elika says, listing the fear of God, trustworthiness and success in career as some of the qualities that informed her choice.
The impact of mentorship in Elika’s life has been immense and has largely informed the decisions that she has made in many areas. Regarding relationships for instance, it eased the pressure to be in one when she was at university. Peer pressure was therefore not a challenge.
“Mentorship has helped me to stay on course: I have made appropriate decisions after consulting my mentor, I have grown holistically and have an understanding of what to expect in various aspects of my life,” she says.
There have been a couple setbacks in her life, but she says having Leunida by her side has made it possible for her to see the bigger picture and realise that challenges are normal, and that she need not be broken by them.
“Having someone who has been there and done that is very important since this person will help you avoid some obvious silly mistakes,” Elika advices.
“Young people with no mentors tend to struggle because they have to figure out everything on their own, and in the process, they end up making drastic mistakes (that could have been avoided) in the process.”
NAME: FAITH OPIYO
Kenya Girl Guides Association
Faith met her mentor, Maureen Nderitu, in 2011 after she completed high school.
“I enrolled at a vocational training centre after high school. I was a girl guide (a requirement for the training centre) and was required to attend many training sessions at the Kenya Girl Guides Association headquarters in Nairobi. This is where I met Maureen, who is now my career and social mentor,” Faith says.
For both, there was an instant connection – Faith explains that she admired Maureen’s teaching methods, her outspokenness, and the fact that she did not mind coming down to the level of the trainees.
“Maureen has the kind of boldness that I admire, so I found myself seeking her counsel in many things that happened in my life, and that is how we started to become close,” Faith says.
As they grew closer, faith says that her mentor opened up to her, told her the story of her life, and realising just how similar their experiences have been meant that they already had a starting point. Their friendship ended up growing to the point of mentor and mentee.
Faith, who is also a mentor at the Kenya Girl Guides Association and sits on the Youth Advisory Panel of the United Nations Population Fund, reckons that having a mentor is what accelerated her career growth because through Maureen, she is able to reach opportunities which she might have missed for lack of knowledge or simply because no one knew that she had the skills they were looking for.
“Having a mentor has sped up my career growth; I think few 25-year-olds have had the opportunities that I have had. Maureen has also helped me to sharpen my vision, and has kept me on my toes, pushing me to keep doing more than I am capable of.”
Faith believes that everyone trying to grow in their lives and careers should get a guide. Not just any guide though.
A mentor must have specific qualities, to begin with, this must be someone that you can be comfortable enough with to be an open book, to be yourself with without holding back.
“A mentor should be someone you trust to know you inside out – someone you can go naked before and not worry about being judged,” Faith explains, and insists that the importance of having a mentor can never be over-stated.
“If I had a mentor right from primary school, I would be further than I am right now.”
Maureen is happy to be Faith’s mentor because, as she puts it, giving back makes the world a better place.
“While starting my career, someone saw the potential in me and was gracious enough to mentor me – this is my way of giving back.”
NAME: SAM OTIENO
Chairperson, Youth Fellowship (BRICK) CITAM Buruburu
Sam, 24, met his mentor, Felix Kola, during his first year of university – their friendship is five years old now.
“Felix is my spiritual mentor. Identifying this kind of a mentor is a very tricky yet sobering process,” Dennis comments, explaining that spirituality is a very complex aspect of life, therefore it is not enough to just get someone who is a high achiever to mentor you.
“I realised along the way that most of the people you may approach for mentorship are not necessarily the kind of mentors that you envisioned them to be, so I took time and prayed about it, and after some consultation, I decided it was time to talk to Felix about my need for mentorship because his character fit what I was looking for,” Dennis says.
The two had been friends for a while, so it was easy for Dennis to seek mentorship from Felix.
For Dennis, honesty and a commitment were at the very top of the list of qualities that he was looking for in a mentor because this is an area of his life that he does not see himself compromising.
“I needed someone who can be brutally honest with me. I also needed someone who is morally upright and has strong principles and values that he upholds. These values and principles had to be similar to mine to avoid unnecessary conflict,” he says.
This relationship has yielded lots of growth in this young man’s life.
“The most important impact of having a mentor is that it has given me a sense of direction, responsibility and clarity in most areas of my life. It has especially come in handy in regard to the relationship I have with those I lead in church, as well as the relationship I have with my friends. I am wiser,” he notes.
This relationship has also helped him to realise that there is more to a career than just earning money.
“Workplace satisfaction is not the feeling you get at the end of every month, but something you should seek everyday by achieving goals that are beyond the paycheque.”
“I have developed a holistic approach and have been able to move from the past to the now. I know what I want out of life in general, and in my career specifically – I am studying a Master of Arts in Literature,” he says.
Dennis notes that trust and honesty are some of the key ingredients for a successful mentor-mentee relationship.
“You should be able to trust your mentor to give you the best advice when you need it; he or she should also respect and understand that you are not a blank slate, and are free to explore your own paths and not strictly stick to those he or she prescribes for you.”
Felix views mentorship as a good way for the mentee to open his eyes to the realities of life that they may be oblivious to.
“My desire for mentorship springs from a place of love, the desire to see the people that I mentor do well in their lives and attain the best of their potential,” he says.
The truth is that mapping out what works for you is difficult to achieve without the help of those who are more experienced. We need support structures around us, and apart from the basics that are provided by our guardians, there is still need for more guidance for the smooth navigation through the various aspects of life, be it spiritual, professional or entrepreneurial. And at that moment when you begin to feel self-sufficient, remember that even some of the world’s renowned leaders, such as Barack Obama and Tony Blair, attest to having had mentors, the individuals they looked up to and walked with as they located their true north on earth.