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0 The Power of Paying it Forward

Most of us can look back on our careers and think of at least one person who took the time and energy to provide mentorship, guidance, and a listening ear. And when we think back on those mentors, we likely don’t reflect on the projects they led or the awards they won, but rather the difference they made in our lives, both as professionals and as people. 


Mentoring is usually a powerful and lasting experience for both the mentoree and the mentor, but mentoring is bigger than two people and the finite period of time they work together. It has the potential to become a legacy—a legacy of people investing in people and paying forward the investment that others have made in them.  


Each of us is part of a larger team, group, and community, and we all—mentorees and mentors alike—have the opportunity to take what we learn from each other and amplify it.  When we remember the times, we have been helped, it can motivate us to help find ways to help others and enhance their lives in ways big and small, creating a powerful butterfly effect in which helping one person indirectly helps dozens, maybe even hundreds, of others.


So, what does paying it forward look like, and how can anyone from a fresh out of college new hire to the seasoned veteran nearing retirement carry on the mentoring legacy? Here are some ideas.


  • Seek and apply advice—and tell the advisor how it went. People love to give advice, and it’s even better when someone asks for it. This may seem like a small thing, but in day-to-day life, many of us are less likely to seek others’ advice compared to when we are in a mentoring environment. Looking for opportunities to ask others for feedback or guidance will not only benefit you but will signal to them that you recognize their knowledge and experience and value their opinion. Even better, try their advice and follow up to let them know how it went. Not only will you make them feel appreciated, you might inspire them to do the same.


  • Thank your mentor. Mentors are hard-working heroes. On top of their day jobs, personal commitments, and challenges of their own, they make time to mentor and develop employees who often do not even work for them or directly impact their day-to-day work. They are motivated solely by the desire to help someone else by sharing what they’ve learned. Say thank you often and show your appreciation by communicating the difference your mentor has made in your life. This simple act will show them the powerful impact they have and inspire them to continue mentoring and influencing others.


  • Share what you’ve learned. One of the great things about mentoring is that it is a tailored, individual experience, which means that everyone is going to learn something different. Don’t keep that knowledge to yourself! Look for opportunities to pay it forward by sharing what you’ve learned in your mentoring work, whether it’s passing on your mentor’s helpful tips to a friend or colleague facing similar challenges, giving your team a class on a program you gained proficiency in, or maybe just openly practicing your new skills in your day-to-day job to help make your team more successful. Chances are, if something you learned from your mentor helped you, it will probably help someone else, too. Be generous with your gains and look for ways to share them with others.


  • Mentor someone else. For mentorees in a formal mentoring relationship, this is an obvious next step and one they feel confident taking. For others, it may seem far-fetched. But the truth is, even if you are brand new to the workforce or your agency, even if you’ve never been a supervisor, even if you are not yet an expert in your field, there is a mentor in all of us. Seasoned employees can help guide the next generation of leaders; meanwhile, junior employees who are still getting their footing in their careers, can find plenty of opportunities to mentor someone else through community programs and other opportunities outside of work. We all have something to offer and something to teach.

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