It’s been a rough year full of challenges, changes and setbacks. But in all of this darkness, one bright light has been a new sense of permission to talk openly about struggle and hardship. To say out loud, without fear of judgment—This is hard. I’m lonely. I need help. The hard truths that once made us feel vulnerable and exposed now help us feel connected because, no matter who you are or where you live, we’re all going through this in one way or another. In the mentoring community, this cultural shift sets the perfect backdrop for starting an important conversation about one of the most critical skills a person can build in life—resilience. Resilience is the capacity to not only cope with difficulties, but to recover from and overcome them. And like any other skills, it takes practice and intention to develop. Below are some ways that mentoring partnerships can make resilience a focus in their mentoring work. Start the conversation and be ready to listen. Finding opportunities to talk about resilience won’t be hard. Even in ordinary times, life is full of challenges and setbacks. Despite this, partnerships often focus their discussions on how to prepare for success and spend a disproportionately small amount of time talking about how to bounce back from failure. Mentors can bring resilience into focus by making it a regular practice to ask mentees to share the challenges they are currently facing, as well as how they are dealing with those challenges. What coping strategies do they use? Do they have a strong support system? What actions have they taken to overcome the challenge? What did they learn and what did they change to carry that experience forward? Acknowledge negative feelings. Part of building resilience is learning how to share our troubles with trusted members of our support system. It can be hard to talk about problems, failures, and hurts, and few things can be more dissuasive than a listener who responds by advising you to keep a stiff upper lip or reminding you that at least you have your health. It is always important to be an effective listener, but especially when you invite someone to share something difficult with you. Effective listening means acknowledging that challenges, big or small, can generate negative feelings and practicing compassion for the person experiencing them. Phrases like, “It sounds like that was a tough time,” or “That must have been really difficult,” validate a person’s feelings of hardship without dismissing or, conversely, magnifying them. Accentuate the positive. While it’s important to acknowledge negative feelings, it’s also important not to focus on them exclusively. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. Mentors can help their mentees take advantage of that opportunity by helping them find and accentuate the positive in their hardships. With a mentor’s objective perspective and guiding wisdom, a challenging relationship with a supervisor or colleague can become a chance to learn how to work with different DISC styles. A blundered presentation can become the genesis for a three-way partnership between the mentee, mentor, and supervisor to identify ways to improve, chances to practice, and an opportunity to try again. Both of these examples illustrate that finding the positive is key to building resilience, and that being resilient is not just about how you cope with a challenge, but how you move past it. End your conversations about challenges or failures with a clear vision of the good that can come from this problem and an actionable plan to carry out a resilience behavior or strategy to bring that vision to fruition. Draw on personal experience. When it comes to getting through a challenge, advice is nice but hearing about how someone else overcame a similar barrier can be even better. Even the most accomplished among us has experienced failures and setbacks and has something to offer in the way of anecdotal evidence that this, too, shall pass. When it’s the mentor’s turn to talk in a conversation about resilience, they should be open and honest about the stumbles and hard times they’ve dealt with on their journey. Dig deep into your memory bank and pull out the failures, fears, insecurities, and bad habits that threatened to hold you back at one point. Share what you learned from those challenges and how you adapted your behaviors, thought patterns, and coping strategies from one challenge to the next. What did you gain from those hard times that you might have missed out on had you not experienced them? Revisit the conversation and celebrate the victories. Mentees will likely not master resilience in one conversation, and even the most resilient mentee can benefit from thinking critically about how to build or maintain their tolerance for change and challenge. Revisit challenges regularly to evaluate how resilience behaviors or strategies have worked, and celebrate their progress or tweak their approach as needed.
"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Lewis Carroll—Alice in Wonderland. Creating a practical plan for a mentoring relationship starts with building your vision. What do you hope to get out of a mentoring partnership? Providing clear descriptions of where you are going with your career will in turn help identify mentors who can optimize this journey. This vision then serves as the basis for developing a plan. But oftentimes, we find ourselves thinking, "I’m not sure where I want to go,” or "I don’t know what I don’t know,” or "Where do I start?” Lewis Carroll provides the idea for the first tip, and we’ll add a few more to get you started: Begin at the beginning. It matters not where you are in your career; you had a starting point—a beginning. Most likely, that beginning had a job description, and you might even have had some career goals at that time. Check that description, those goals, and review what you’ve accomplished. As you check things off your list, what remains can be used as a new beginning for revealing your vision. Your performance reviews can also provide insight into your strengths along with areas needing improvement. Put aside any personal feelings you might have about them and use them as a starting point—a beginning. Uncover opportunities. Review your job description (or perhaps one for another job of interest) to identify the competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities required. Again, be objective. Which of these items can you check off your list, and which could you use some help improving? Perhaps you want to explore other career opportunities. If so, use similar resources to identify job elements that match your skills to give your exploration a starting point. Look at your strengths and talents. Ask yourself if your natural talents are being used to their fullest potential. Are there opportunities to showcase your talents? How can you let others know that you would like to help out by applying your strengths and talents to their needs? Uncover blind spots. Don’t worry about what you don’t know; start with what you do know that will point you towards areas and topics you want or need to learn more about. Ask for help. One of the best ways to uncover blind spots is to ask your supervisor, manager, co-workers, or even someone you supervise for specific and useful feedback. "What am I doing that is holding me back?” or "What could I do to manage you better?” Write down those growth opportunities and thoughts until you finish with what you know. Before you know it, you’ll have the building blocks you need to create your mentoring plan.