I had been out of school for four years when the Career Services Department from my graduate school contacted me about becoming a mentor to a current student. At this point, I was knee-deep in decisions about career changes, trying to figure out if I should pack up my apartment to move somewhere warmer, and baffled about how to navigate a reorganization that left me completely unsure of what my job actually was. The idea of mentoring someone when I had my own mentor on speed dial seemed like a crazy idea.
I thought about all of the reasons why I shouldn’t do it.
- I no longer lived in the same city as my graduate school. What if she needs a lot of face-to-face time?
- I have, in no way, “arrived” at where I want to be. How was I supposed to help her figure out her professional direction when I’m still clearing the path of my own career?
- And what if I corrupt her?! What if this is someone who the future of the world is dependent upon and I throw her a curve ball that completely misaligns her with her purpose? Do I really want to be accountable for that?!
Naturally, I did the only appropriate thing to do when something seems daunting… I said yes! Shonda Rhimes would be so proud!
I was connected to my mentee and she reached out to me with a million questions right from the start. She was in her first year in a graduate program and one of the things most grad schools encourage is to hit the ground running. From the first day of classes, you have T minus 2 (or 3-4) years to build your network and figure out what to do with your entire life. I think if my mentee could have put every question she’s every thought to ask about her future in that first e-mail, she would have!
After I read her initial email, I laughed! And not in my head either. I laughed a hearty laugh at her and at myself! I saw someone eerily familiar in her words and in her uncertainties. I saw myself as a first year graduate student all over again! The things that she was experiencing, like “How do I land the perfect internship?” or “How do I get through these interviews?” and “I don’t feel comfortable negotiating”, I had already navigated. I couldn’t tell her how to become the CEO of a hospital yet, but I could certainly help her at her current stage. No matter what decisions I would make for my career going forward, I had already navigated past the point of where she was.
This is where Suited and Savvy was born. My mentee made me realize that though I’m not yet at my “there”, I am also no longer where she is. We have the ability to lead even while in route.
Over the next couple of years, my mentee and I tag-teamed her academic life and her transition into the professional world. There were times when I told her just how crazy she sounded. There were times when I connected her to people who could intimidate her so much that she no longer feared interviews. I connected her with people who are doing what she wants to do. We rehearsed difficult conversations, we made endless “pros and cons” lists, and we talked candidly about balancing professional and personal goals. I mentored her in the best way I knew how, and in turn, she also mentored me. She forced me to look at my experiences differently and to pull the purpose out of the things that challenged me at the start of my career. We can all benefit from relationships like this! Even before we arrive at our final career destinations, we have so much to offer to each other! Suited and Savvy is about women helping women accomplish career goals by sharing what we know, no matter how small. We always hear that the journey is far more important than the destination, but the more feedback we share, the better programmed our career GPS’s become.